Will COVID-19 have a lasting impact on the environment?

Will COVID-19 have a lasting impact on the environment?

/ Energy / Wednesday, 06 May 2020 05:54

While the spread of COVID-19 has inflicted substantial damage to global economies, the exceptional circumstances that the world is experiencing today and the resulting lifestyle conditions has given an unprecedented opportunity for the planet to rebound, offering a respite from further degradation.

According to UNEP's Emission Gap Report 2019, by the end of 2020, global CO2 emissions need to have dropped by 7.6 percent and continue to fall by 7.6 percent each year for us to have keep global heating under 1.5 degrees celsius.

Rob Jackson, chair of the Global Carbon Project has said that thanks to measures taken to curb the coronavirus pandemic, carbon dioxide emissions could fall by the largest amount since World War Two in 2020.

"I wouldn’t be shocked to see a five percent or more drop in carbon dioxide emissions this year, something not seen since the end of World War Two," while experts warned that without structural change, the emissions declines caused by coronavirus could be short-lived and have little impact on the concentrations of carbon dioxide that have accumulated in the atmosphere over decades.

Transport accounts for about 23 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions and 27 percent of end-use energy emissions with urban transport, according to the World Health Organisation. However, with air travel grounded, and social isolation measures put in place in many countries around the world, less air pollutants and greenhouse gases are being emitted.

In fact, not only has this led to less pollution in the air, but air quality has improved significantly in many countries, including in China, where carbon emissions fell by around 25 percent.

While action on COVID-19 has lowered CO₂ emissions drastically, it has also shown how economically damaging a rapid response can be, compared to a steady and planned transition that could have been adopted to phase out emissions decades ago. The urgent question now is how to maintain the environmental benefits once the COVID-19 epidemic wanes, and how to learn from one crisis response in the pursuit of another.

This current phase of low crude and gas prices coupled with unaccounted economic recessions are likely to create a deterrent towards this carbon-neutral achievement within the specified time frame. There needs to be a greater ambition on the topic of climate change, channeling significant efforts and investments reallocation towards the energy efficiency and renewables, as well as a stringent plan of phasing out the global coal-fired power plant capacities.

Also, as people realize that remote working can be effective for some, and that leisure can be fun at home too, now is the time for governments and businesses to write policies that nurture these tendencies – like high-quality public broadband, and taxes on aeroplane fuel.

Countries across the globe are stepping up to the mark to take decisive action in light of the virus, causing a major paradigm shift within societies. Once COVID-19 subsides, it’s important that governments throw their weight behind a similarly ambitious response to climate change.

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