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Aug 21

Is the coronavirus silver lining actually green?

Reading Time: 3 mins

The coronavirus outbreak has caused a huge amount of problems across the world – not only the actual impact of the virus and its symptoms but also the economic and political strain that it is putting on nations. But in amongst all the negativity, there are certainly some positives that are coming out.

Perhaps the most important potential positive of the Covid-19 crisis is the benefits for the planet and the natural world – could coronavirus actually provide some benefits to the environment? Here we take a look at the environmental impact of Covid-19 and see whether this could lead to long-lasting change. 

 

A reduction in Chinese emissions

It has been well-documented that China is one of the world’s major sources of carbon emissions. And while this has been a real cause for concern who environmentalists around the world, it seems the coronavirus has had something of a positive effect. China appears to have gone through the worst of the Covid-19 crisis and is coming out the other side, but its emissions have dropped significantly during that time. 

It seems that China’s carbon emissions fell by around 25% over the 4-week period where the country was significantly harmed by the virus. And while demand has certainly begun to return to normal, the country is still seeing lower emissions than it would expect during a normal year. 

 

European lockdown causing emission fall

Of course, China is not the only place that is expected to see a dramatic fall in carbon emissions. The fact that a large part of Europe is under varying degrees of lockdown has meant that carbon emissions from vehicle pollution has seen a very significant fall. It has been predicted that across 2020 as a whole, there could a drop as much as 24.4%.

And it is not just the fact that there are fewer cars on the road that can a cause for celebration for environmentalists – the demand for power across Europe has fallen during the crisis too. Indeed, air travel is another factor as the grounding of whole fleets of planes has been a huge reducer. 

 

Huge reduction in industrial demand for power

With many countries forcing non-essential businesses to close – and others finding no alternative but to close due to much less in the way of demand – industrial and commercial greenhouse gas emissions have reduced enormously. China has seen a 40% reduction in coal use, and this is thought to be entirely due to lower industrial use. 

Once again, of course, it is important to note that some of the demands will return very rapidly to normal once the restrictions are over and life begins to return to normal. 

 

Will this make any difference long term?

Of course, there can be no doubt that there will be a significant impact on global emissions for the duration of the virus, but is there anything to suggest that this will lead to any change in the long run? Interestingly, one scientist believes that the reverse is true: that Covid-19 will actually lead to a rise in global emissions.

Senior lecturer in chemical engineering at the University of Melbourne believes that while emissions have seen a drastic fall during the coronavirus outbreak, we are likely to see a surge in emissions as businesses look to make up for lost time and increase their output for the year. Ultimately, this surge could lead to more emissions overall. 

 

But effects are likely to be more complex

The truth is that there are no guarantees that the Covid-19 crisis will ultimately result in lower emissions, but some of the drastic changes that have been seen may well result in a shift in attitudes to some aspects of day-to-day life. For example, there has been some suggestion that the idea of taking holidays abroad may take some time to recover, resulting in more domestic holidays. This means a long-term effect of lower air traffic pollution. 

This could also be an opportunity for governments to look into the feasibility of speeding up the process of reducing the number of diesel vehicles, both from an industrial and an everyday perspective. There had been calls for diesel vehicles to be phased out by 2040 – but this enormous change in behaviour could provide the opportunity to make drastic changes.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

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