I have seen a lot of speculation about the impact of Covid-19 on climate change. From a personal perspective, I suspect my carbon emissions have reduced. I am not going out, only buying necessary products, not flying as my booked holidays get cancelled, and working from home. After a short period of adaptation, this all now seems normal, but I wonder if I will return to old habits once the pandemic is over?
On a global level, Reuters reported that carbon output could fall by "more than 5%" this year. This would be the first dip since the 2008 financial crisis, where we saw a 1.4% reduction in emissions. This is seemingly good news amid this global health emergency, but will it last?
Eventually, closed down businesses will reopen, flights will resume, and people will venture out of their homes and return to normal. The 2008 dip was followed by a rapid emissions growth of 5.1% during the recovery (according to Reuters).
As transportation and industrial production ramp back up in China, associated emissions are rising, and I expect it will be similar across the world as countries come out of the other side of this. The reduction of emissions due to Coronavirus is a short-term side effect. It is not a permanent solution to climate change.
Going forward, nations must continue to focus efforts on tackling climate change and make structural changes for a sustainable future. The pandemic has shown that it is possible for governments and the private sector to come together to tackle a major disaster; some of the lessons could be applied for tackling climate change.
The pandemic will also generate some interesting data for climate researchers. Previously impractical and almost impossible experiments are now taking place around us. Scientists and engineers will be able to study the effects of grounding flights, halting industry, and reducing transport on emissions.
Back to the personal level, we can continue some of these lockdown habits into our new normal. We have seen that working from home and using video conferencing can be very effective, and frequent international travel is not a necessity. These shifts could help to maintain personal emissions to lower levels.