Does the Corona pandemic have a silver lining?

19 Maret 2020

It may be a cynical premise to argue at a time when countries all over the world are locking down, severely restrict public life and face the consequences of dropping industrial production. But it seems that there is a winner in this dire situation: the climate.

According to American researchers, the Coronavirus pandemic has led to a 50% drop in carbon-monoxide emissions from car traffic compared to last year, as citizens are compelled to avoid all unnecessary journeys. Carbon-dioxide emissions have fallen as well due to aviation having ground almost to a halt, especially in Europe, where Lufthansa has announced it would cancel 23,000 flights, of which 90% long-haul and 80% short and mid-range flights.

The fact that greenhouse gas emissions have been falling on a global level, including China and Europe, could provide governments with an important incentive to accelerate the energy transition in the future. After all, the emissions drop currently observed is temporary and the result of economic contraction, but governments would be well advised to learn their lessons and use these extraordinary circumstances to accelerate the process of moving away from fossil fuels to low-carbon alternatives – and this way carry these low-emissions into the future.

“We don’t want a Great Depression to be the reason for our carbon emissions drop. We want efficient and renewable energy to be the reasons so that we can continue to thrive economically,” argues Rob Jackson, an environmental researcher at Stanford University. What is needed now is a systemic change that allows countries to revive their economies in a more sustainable way.

This is especially important considering that the pressures of climate change will remain the same after the health crisis. While it is true that many regions in the world will be facing enormous economic hardship and suffering for the foreseeable future, a revamped economy that rebuilds itself on a greener foundation offers a wide range of new opportunities for technological innovation, entrepreneurs and employment – if the right lessons are being learned and translated into policy.

Of course, this is where the difficulties begin. Faced with slumped economies, governments the world over will feel compelled to jump-start growth at all costs, including by deregulation to the benefit of fossil fuel and other highly carbon-intensive industries. For hints of what this may look like, look no further than China. Beijing seems already set on scaling back the emission standards for cars, followed by other measures aimed at stimulating strategic industries like construction and transport.

China’s path is not set in stone, however. Perhaps this crisis can engender real change, but on an economic and political level. That would be Corona’s true silver lining.

Image credit: Nicholas Erwin/Flickr

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