COVID-19 impact on climate change: a silver-lining to an obvious dark side

Shafiatul Kubra Mim | Published: 07:33, Jul 26,2020


Rich countries have responded to the COVID-19 crisis with all the economic and administrative might indicating all-out response is a matter of political will and necessity. Likewise, green activists are warning that the governments should invest their power and forces to combat the climate change because after a decrease in the carbon emission due to the pandemic, countries will propel to cover-up the economic loses boosting the carbon footprint, writes Shafiatul Kubra Mim

AS WE are all trying to slow the spread of the COVID-19, news broke out of how air quality suddenly improved and how nature is coming back. This is the wrong message that we are receiving from the pandemic which is given showing us a ‘rosy picture’ beyond the actual facts.

None of this had any significant impact on CO2 levels on global and long-term scale, nor will it be enough to permanently mitigate climate change, because none of this indicates structural change which is important to win the battle.

The lockdown leading to global economic slowdown has helped to reduce carbon emission by more than 8 per cent so far of the year. This has largely possible amid demand of fossil fuel fell in power generation, ground transport, aviation and manufacturing industry. This low carbon emission may only last as long as the lockdown stays. As the intensity of the pandemic will slow down, many governments will try to aim at a more of a v-shaped recovery of their economy. How rapid and what tools will the governments use might give more insights to the climate experts about the future carbon emissions.

To achieve the Paris Agreement goals, the United Nations Environment Programme report shows that the global greenhouse gas emissions should fall by 7.6 per cent each year between 2020 and 2030. Currently the world is going through the agreement’s range of emission cuts but how long the people will be fortunate enough to see it lasts is the question. Specially because living in such range was not precedent in the first place. It was expected to be only 4 per cent of greenhouse gas reduction in 2020.

That means the governments had plans that will not meet Paris Agreement’s terms. What is worrying is that after this coronavirus pandemic, governments will restart their plans which would lead to much greater greenhouse gas emission in the following years.

It is difficult to make one on one comparison of two different crisis but the reaction and effort from government to tackle a global emergency like the new coronavirus pandemic compared to an equally life-threatening climate crisis, tells you how the governments all around the world are turning a blind eye to it.

The trouble with climate change is that so far, it is not being felt by the most of the cash rich societies. To date, climate change is mostly taking its toll on people who live in the developing world, or on the lowest income group of the rich economies. The fact that some governments reacted so drastically to the coronavirus outbreak proves that, strong economies do have the infrastructural, financial and political ability to react quickly to a life-threatening crisis.

To fight climate change unlike coronavirus, it does not require to put on a hold to their economy. It needs restructuring the pattern of energy generation and consumption. And also the actions do not require to be so drastic. All it takes is the willingness of the respected institutions. 

It is near certainty that we will see a global recession or even depression because of this pandemic. President Xi Jinping has made it very clear that China intends to bounce back from this pandemic and that likely means to investing in economy to get it jump-start. It can be predicted that this will probably take the form of cheap credits being given to heavy industries, which will result in increase of Co2 in air. This bouncing back in emission has historical precedent in china.

In 2009 during the global crisis, China announced a 586-billion-dollar stimulus package, a lot of which went to infrastructure projects which increased a lot of constructional work and also a lot of concretes were used and we know that concretes have a very large Co2 footprint.

Therefore, within a year both the economy and the carbon emission in China were back on an upward trajectory. Also, in 2008, the carbon emission was less which increased heavily in 2009, this is because in response to the global crisis the governments around the world announce stimulus packages and, in some cases, they have had heavy carbon footprints as like the case of China. So, from this case it can be stated that, while a global financial crisis decreased carbon emission in a short term but it actually had a net negative effect in the long run.

A global recession as a result of coronavirus lockdown could also slow or stall the shift to clean energy. Because of this pandemic and economic crisis, the capital markets lock up and will be difficult for companies to continue investing for their future solar, wind and electric grid projects. For this ongoing economic pressure, countries around the world will follow and take steps like China which will discourage them to look for other sources at higher cost and more likely will shift to cheap energy or as we know coal energy (dirty energy). 

The coronavirus crises may weaken the existing climate change goals and loose ambition for green economy. The coronavirus-affected countries such as France, the UK, China and Italy were among those countries who were fighting their battle, against climate change. While these countries are already suffering at an unusual level in their economic growth, the opponent countries will successfully argue that climate change will be the least of the problem to be considered in contrast of high unemployment numbers, bankrupt small and medium companies and impoverishment. Governments could revitalise polluting economies such as the coal powered steel factories, in order to support their economy and growth at a low cost.

The biggest challenge now the countries have to take is how policymakers are going to respond to this global recession and the way the pandemic modifies political will for climate movement around the world. In March, as the coronavirus pandemic started spreading across the continent, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš urged Europe to ‘forget about the Green Deal now and focus on the coronavirus instead’ that indicates us how governments around the world are dealing with the crisis.

G20 countries are responsible of 78 percent of all greenhouse gasses, but only five among the G20 members have so far committed to a long-term zero emissions target. We believe that if economies like, USA and EU do not set an example of dealing with this pandemic and climate crisis in moderate way, then Bangladesh, India and other developing counties will face and have to take the burden of their mistake of ignoring the facts of climate change in future days. COVID-19 is a global pandemic and serious threat to human health and survival, however many may call it as a ‘blessing in disguise’ where the nature is reclaiming itself.

We should always remember that ‘extinction is the rule, survival is the exception’ therefore to survive and sustain we will have to create a functioning economy that supports humans without threatening their existence on Earth.

Shafiatul Kubra Mim is the champion of Climathon’19 and graduated from Bangladesh University of Professionals.

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