By Raquel Pacheco
It is no mystery these are challenging times for everyone. In a matter of months, our lives have transformed drastically, leaving a trail of uncertainty and concern. With the current Coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent quarantine, it is no wonder to reflect on the consequences of the unexpected global crisis. Our ordinary habits and behaviours have changed; air and road travel have remarkably plummeted, leading to pollution levels dropping – so what does this mean for climate change?
When the quarantine period started a few weeks back to stop the spread of the Coronavirus pandemic, we would have never imagined the reaction it would have on our planet. The streets are empty, the roaring traffic noise has completely vanished, and the sound of birdsong has become perceptible.
In China, the first country to impose lockdown, carbon emissions dropped an estimated 25% in February due to the slowed manufacturing of industrial producers and factories. According to the US government estimate, the country’s emissions of carbon dioxide are predicted to drop 7.5% this year, especially in New York where the levels of pollution have dropped by nearly 50%. In the EU, carbon emissions have decreased between 40 and 60% over the last few weeks.
These shocking changes have gradually become more visible. In countries such as China and Italy and cities from New Dehli to Los Angeles, the air has been cleaner. For the first time in years, the water from the canals in Venice is clear because no boats are sailing. The lockdown restrictions have brought wildlife into the empty streets of usually crowded cities like San Francisco and Chicago where coyotes have been seen wandering around certain areas.
The Coronavirus pandemic may seem to be causing a positive effect on carbon emissions but coming to a great human and social cost, however, will this be a long-term change? Undoubtedly, it may seem too soon to celebrate these changes on our planet as they have stemmed from months of lockdown restrictions and drastic shutdown of industrial manufacturing, but what will the forecast of global warming be when the recovery period commences?
Professor Keeling from The Scripps Research Institute told the Financial Times:
“The lesson is that you can change emissions with this kind of shock, but we’d like to learn how to change emissions without a shock like this”.
If the quarantine and lockdown restrictions continue, carbon emissions decline will increase. However, it is estimated emissions will drop 4% across the globe, but according to the UN, that is not enough to cease the worst repercussions of climate change as 7% is needed.
Rob Jackson, an environmental scientist at Stanford University, told NPR that to achieve those cutbacks, more crucial changes need to be made:
“This isn’t the way to reduce our fossil fuels emissions. We don’t want tens of millions of people being out of work as a path to decarbonizing our economy. We need systematic change in our energy infrastructure and new green techonologies.”
After the global pandemic, it will be clear the world needs a behavioural change. As Michael Liebreich, senior contributor of BloombergNEF has noted, more significant governmental support for clean energy is necessary. The use of renewable power and financing low-carbon infrastructure could persuade economies into a more climate-friendly path.
With these unsettling times, any future prediction seems uncertain. It is difficult to say how our environment will react once the quarantine period is over, however, by implementing more eco-friendly changes in our behaviour we can give the world that little push it needs so desperately.