The COVID-19 pandemic forced companies to temporarily close facilities in many parts of the world to help slow down the spread of the coronavirus. A great side effect of the pandemic as thousands of people stopped working and travelling, was that this brought down carbon emissions, causing positive changes in the environment. No more daily commutes as many people worked from home and virtual Zoom meetings replaced the boardroom.
Stricter quarantine and travel restrictions helped air pollution and CO2 in major cities fall rapidly as the virus spread. A recent CSIRO study reported in May 2020 that global carbon emissions went down by 17 per cent due to global lockdowns. The decrease is compared to the same time last year and resulted in a level of emissions not seen since 2006.
China, the US, India and other high emitters were all in high levels of lockdown at that point in April.
Daily emissions between January and April had declined by 8.6 per cent compared to the same period last year.
“Decreases in emissions in 2020 were largest in China where industry and communities first locked down, followed by the US, Europe, and then India,” CSIRO researcher and report co-author Pep Canadell said.
An absolutely amazing statistic from India, a country of almost 1.4 billion people, who between them bought almost 4.4 million passenger and commercial cars in 2019, recorded not a one single new car sold in India in April 2020. None.
Decreases were the greatest in the surface transport sector, which includes cars and shipping.
NASA released satellite images that show improved air quality across China, which had been heavily affected by the novel coronavirus.
“As people have changed their everyday behaviours to contain or avoid the coronavirus, there have been subtle effects on the environment,” NASA Earth shared on Twitter.
NASA Earth revealed the nitrogen dioxide over China has dropped since many cities went into quarantine. Its satellites also found street traffic has been cleared from China’s major roads, meaning less pollution.
Of course, Covid-19 has been devastating for airlines all over the world as borders closed and flights were cancelled. Also, worldwide cancellations of large-scale events including the Geneva Motor Show, and Formula One Grand Prix also resulted in a large drop of fossil fuel use. More carbon savings were due to millions of people avoiding school journeys, shopping runs, office commutes, conventions and trade fairs, business and holiday travel, and so much more.
CSIRO’s study showed there was also a 60 per cent decline in emissions from the global aviation industry in April compared to the year before, amounting to about 1.7 Mt of CO2.
The health crisis has reduced carbon emissions more efficiently than any government policy. If only governments would act with the same urgency on climate as on the coronavirus. It has also shown how political and corporate leaders can take radical emergency action on the advice of the scientific sector to protect human wellbeing when they decide to. If science is trusted to guide us during a pandemic, why not also in regard to the dangers of the climate crisis. We’ve all seen that governments can deal with a large scale, global emergency straight away with measures appropriate to the threat.
We may realise that we never really needed to travel that much, and the benefits to the environment would only be meaningful if it led to long-term behavioural change, particularly in aviation, which is one of the fastest growing sources of emissions. The slow-down caused by the pandemic may just give us time for deeper action such as advances in technology, lowering renewable prices, and mounting public pressure on governments to change course.
Covid-19 has given us a chance to take a breath, and it has delivered some great environmental benefits for us to appreciate such as, cleaner air and water, lower carbon emissions and a respite for wildlife. Let’s grab this opportunity and capitalise on this moment and make changes in our daily lives for the better.
Kindly supported by Australian Organic Food Co