Over the past few months, the COVID-19 outbreak has forced countries around the world to implement lockdown measures. While many of these countries are now entering a phase of deconfinement, it is time to take stock of the impact that such measures may have had on our societies, but also on the environment. Indeed, some unprecedented facts have been observed: international flights have ground to a halt, industrial production has been partially suspended, remote work has resulted in a drastic drop in greenhouse gas emissions. From an environmental point of view, can we say that these lockdown measures linked to the coronavirus outbreak had an impact on global warming?
In China, greenhouse gas emissions have dropped following the Coronavirus outbreak.
The environment is benefitting from the Coronavirus pandemic. During its first two weeks of confinement, China reduced its energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions by 25%, which is equivalent to 100 million tons of CO2. The concentration of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) has decreased by 30% to 50% in major Chinese cities compared to the same period in January and February 2019. Fine particulate matter levels also dropped by 20% to 30% in February compared to the previous three years.
Comparison of Nitrogen Dioxide emissions in China between January and February 2020, NASA and European Space Agency (ESA)
Despite the short-term dropped in carbon emissions from the outbreak, we are still far from reversing the global greenhouse gas emissions that have been on the rise for a long time.
Several climatologists believe that this health crisis is far from enough to have positive impacts on climate change, which is the result of the accumulation of greenhouse gases produced over several decades. “To have a chance of limiting warming to 1.5°C compared to the pre-industrial era, all countries would have to halve their emissions between 2020 and 2030, i.e. a reduction of 7% every year. And we are far from it.” mentioned the climatologist Jean Jouzel during an interview with France24.
Meanwhile, several researchers have warned that Coronavirus could potentially drive the attention away from climate change issues and hit clean energy investment.
The World Bank estimates that adapting to a warmer climate could cost $70bn to $100bn per year by 2050, assuming warming is kept to the target of 2°C. However, the real costs could be far higher. While France has released 45 billion euros of financial assistance to secure the businesses during the Coronavirus outbreak, it is estimated that this sum is equivalent to almost 2 years of financial need to succeed in the climate transition in France. Creating debt is one way but will countries be ready to mobilize additional funds for climate change?
With the capital market lock-up, companies are facing difficulties to secure the financing necessary to move ahead with their on-going clean energy projects. For instance, Wood Mackenzie projects as much as a 10% reduction in Chinese battery cell output for 2020. Coronavirus is making climate change actions more challenging.
Coronavirus and climate change are linked in certain ways. No one is geographically immune to the coronavirus and the same is true for climate change. Coronavirus has taught us the importance of solidarity, which is exactly what we need to deal with climate change. Environmental damage has been taking place for a long time and the consequences are enormous. Shouldn’t it deserve as much attention as Coronavirus does?
About the author
Zi Wei, Senior Consultant in Alcimed’s Healthcare team in France
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