The impact of the Coronavirus on our climate
The Coronavirus is spreading around the globe. Countries are in lock-down, others close the border to prevent the virus from entering. Staggering economies, social isolation and overflowing hospitals have become a reality for many. This corona outbreak has had a lot of effects on many sectors. But have you thought about its effect on the environment?
With factories temporary shutting down and many cancelled flights, we all have to give in some luxury. Many sectors thrive on fossil fuels and their closure had led to a drop in many emissions. See for example the red spots in northern Italy in these frame . The red colour represents high emissions of NO2, which is a greenhouse gas that has also proven to be bad for our health. It forms when fossil fuels are combusted .
So with more countries in a lock-down, the decrease in emissions is ongoing. This sounds like some good news for the climate and many people actually seems to feel this way. But is this actually true? And is there also bad news for the environment?
Of course, there are many scenarios on how this Coronavirus will develop. However, some immediate effects can be noted. If we want to fight climate change we figured we will need three things: attention, action and money.
Let’s start with the first one: attention. With a pandemic taking place outside of your front door, most people will likely spread their attention a bit differently. Media focus on the spread, number of cases and fatalities. This simply means there is lot less attention for other issue as climate change. For example, who has heard that we broke a record in Europe for having the warmest winter in decades ?
The second one is action, which is a result of adopting the issue. Currently, people are locked in their houses, which prevents them to join events or manifestations. For example, Greta Thunberg asks her fellow protestors to be creative in alternative forms of activism, such as with a digital strike . But also important meetings are postponed . For example, UN negotiations on a treaty to protect marine biodiversity .
And then comes money..
The third issue is money, which is the most complex one. A common misunderstanding is that poverty will reduce climate change. Poor people don’t take flights, eat a lot of meat or buy a lot of clothes. However, there is another side to this. Imagine you’re struggling to find enough food to feed your children. You’d pick the cheap rice over the organic one. If you have mouths to feed, sustainable choices are not high on the agenda. In a way, making sustainable choices is a luxury. No wonder the UN put ‘End Poverty’ as their first Sustainable Development Goal 
This pattern also works on a wider scale: we need money to invest in sustainable alternatives. If we want electric cars, we need more efficient batteries. This development requires people who take the risk of investment. Investment will lead to research and development, which in turn makes products more affordable for everyone. In economic bad times, these investors are less likely to take a risk . Thus, the development of sustainable alternatives might hamper.
On the other hand, we see how governments spend billions of euros to keep economies going. This can work out well, as investors still dare to take a risk. But, we’ve seen in the 2008 crisis that support can also lead to return to business-as-usual . And in many of the places where pollution is going down, factories might be up and running within a few months.
The unpredictable future
So what’s next? Most experts agree that we simply can’t tell yet. The spread of the Coronavirus, a possible vaccine and other side-effects all have an impact. What we do know is that the drop in emissions is probably not permanent. At some point, economies will recover and become productive. We can conclude from the pandemic that we’re globally able to cooperate. If we would put this effort in fighting climate change, we might have a bright future ahead of us. So fingers crossed and stay healthy!
As a last note, we’d like to say that we are absolutely horrified about the situation that we’re in and we’re not trying to belittle the impact of those affected.
– Follow the advice from your local government and the experts. We all know that you’re less useful when you’re sick, so try to avoid it! 🙂
– Use your time wisely! If you’re stuck at home like us, it means you save a lot of time and energy from commuting. Invest it in something cool!
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3 thoughts on “The impact of the Coronavirus on our climate”
Good article! I read an article from Bas Eickhout from the EU parliament who thinks that like in 2008, when emissions also dropped because of economic recession, the economy will grow faster after the crisis, wich overshadows by far the reduction in emissions that we are currently having. This is maybe a nice addition to the article.
Hi Lieuwe, thanks for your comment! Indeed, you are right that many people, including Bas Eickhout, predict this to happen. That is also the contradiction of the whole problem, that the benefits for the climate will only last for a little while. We do hope that this crisis, that many describe as the heaviest crisis we had since the second World War, might bring forward the insight that the economy we have right now is not sustainable. Hopefully we can make a change!