The coronavirus pandemic has killed more than 4,000 people and infected more than 120,000, but on the upside it is cutting global carbon emissions for the first time in more than a decade. In China we have seen emissions fall by 25 percent (200 megatonnes of CO2). We are seeing a tremendous decline in emissions intensive air travel (global air traffic decreased by 4.3% in February) and a looming recession could decrease fossil fuel consumption and resultant emissions just like we saw in the recession of 2008-2008.
Whether or not the coronavirus has long-term impacts depends on what we do. Subsidies, such as those that prop-up the fossil fuel industry will exacerbate the problem. The key question is will we go back to business as usual or will we take this opportunity to get serious about climate action. If the past is any indication of the future it is likely that we will ramp up carbon intensive activity once this crisis abates. If we do this then the future is grim. However, there is a small chance that this may give us pause for refection and perhaps even augur change.
Businesses are closing and people are being forced to work from home. Meetings, conferences, summits and a vast array of sporting and entertainment events are being cancelled. All of these actions will decrease emissions and alter–at least temporarily–our perilous trajectory. In the last decade emissions have grown at an annual rate of 1 percent, or about 317 megatonnes. These emissions put us on track to surpass the upper temperature threshold limit.
Although the coronavirus is reducing emissions we are seeing government stimulus packages that are undermining these reductions. U.S. President Donald Trump has just announced a stimulus package for the fossil fuel industry and Chinese President Xi Jinping has indicated the government will provide extra stimulus packages to help the economy recover. This could also be harmful to the Chinese solar industry.
Any government action that ramps up fossil fuel production or relaxes environmental regulations is bad news for climate action.
If nothing else the global response to the coronavirus proves that governments are capable of serious actions to address a crisis.. Whether the same urgency will be brought to bear on the climate crisis remains to be seen.
If governments and corporate leaders decide to combat climate change, we could see a shift that augurs hope for our future. At the very least this virus may have bought us a little more time.
Trump’s Handling of the Coronavirus is a lot like his Climate Strategy
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Coronavirus Reduces China’s Emissions by 25 Percent