The Coronavirus, or Covid-19, pandemic is having at least one positive effect on the planet: it reduced pollution and carbon emissions, but the reductions were not even close to enough, and they were temporary. Not only temporary, but the result of economic hardship and contractions that many hope will soon come to an end. Once they do, carbon emissions could resume at record levels.
Greenhouse gas emissions dropped 6.4% percent in 2020 because of the economic slowdown caused by the pandemic, with 13% being attributed to the U.S., compared with an average increase of 1.4 percent every year from 2010 to 2019.
In the Spring of 2020, the effects of the pandemic were immediate and astonishing. Skies cleared across areas of China usually beset by smog and air pollution. CO2 emissions in China declined 25 percent in the last week of February, for example. Meanwhile, scientists across the globe are tracking and quantifying meaningful reductions in greenhouse gases and carbon emissions due to the pandemic across Europe and North America. One unfortunate consequence came to light as oil prices dropped significantly — causing the price of making “virgin” plastic cheaper than using “recycled” plastic.
The direct link between the worldwide economy and CO2, and greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution is nothing new. The last time emissions and pollution came close to flat-lining was during the last economic crisis in 2008-2009.
The good news is that this time, as then, leading scientists hailed the news as clear evidence that it is within humanity’s power to reduce worldwide carbon emissions. But economic crises are not how we want to combat climate change and, anyway, once this coronavirus crisis is contained, the world’s carbon-emitting economic engines are sure to crank up, offsetting the short-term CO2 emissions reductions. Observers also point out that the crisis will drain key government and private sector resources that are needed to make the transformation to sustainable and clean energy, while the falling costs of oil and other fossil fuels will doubtless discourage investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy, and, instead, encourage the use of carbon-spewing oil and gas.
You might want to listen to Bill Gates in his TED talk on the subject, hosted by TED’s curator-in-chief, Chris Anderson, and current affairs curator, Whitney Pennington Rodgers, recorded March 24, 2020. And, if you have kids, here is a project for kids to take action and influence congress in supporting clean energy and climate justice initiatives as legislation moves through the government in response to Covid-19.
The hardships of the pandemic and the rise of populism, seeking to sow doubt about the seriousness of global warming and the role of human activity in causing it, has led to dozens of climate rules being rolled back during COVID-19.
The conclusion of a report published by the Breakthrough National Centre for Climate Restoration takes the position that the current pandemic is a dress rehearsal for climate change. In other words, many policy makers and scientists are now both lamenting and stressing that the pandemic clearly shows that only through tough government intervention will carbon emissions be cut at the rate needed to stop the warming of the planet.
Governments are moving “faster than we ever were,” the lead 2015 Paris Agreement negotiator, Christiana Figueres, told the New York Times at the end of 2020. But the world as a whole remains dangerously behind schedule in slowing catastrophic climate change, according to a United Nations report released at the end of the year.