One of the few apparent benefits of the worldwide lockdown following on from Covid-19 was that the pandemic was viewed as being good for the environment. Air and road travel numbers were cut to a fraction of what they were a year previously and immediate change was seen in the visible air pollution surrounding large cities across the globe. But in reality the facts and figures aren’t as optimistic. Following on from the brief period of environmental calm was a gigantic surge in pollution and carbon emissions. As it stands global temperatures are on course to rise by 3.9°C – nearly double the Paris Agreement target. Without solid structural change that figure is only going to worsen and some organisations are pushing for world leaders to take action through stringent financial and political change. In the past, in times following large economic downturns, world governments haven’t performed well when it comes to environmental contributions. Modern sentiment towards climate change however is now more at the forefront of the public’s minds than ever before. But how exactly has the Covid-19 pandemic affected CO2 emissions thus far? How are some countries introducing green recovery packages and what is it truly going to cost to create structural change post-Covid?
How Has Global Lockdown Affected CO2 Emissions?
By early April 2020 daily emissions of CO2 had fallen by 17% compared to the previous year. This was the sharpest drop in global carbon emissions in history. If we examine the numbers even further we can see that in some of the countries which had the strictest lockdown procedures emissions fell by as much as 26%. More recent data however is showing that as of June 11th the emission statistics are barely even 5% lower than in 2019. Despite the initial decline in air pollution, the planet is still on track to reach a level of 450ppm when it comes to the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere before the end of 2020.
Due to the physical properties of CO2 it is one of the pollutants that lingers in our atmosphere the longest. This means that the short term decrease in CO2 output levels means very little in relation to current levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. It means even less to the overall greenhouse gas problem. The levels of carbon emissions that were reached by May 2020 (418ppm) were still the highest ever recorded, and some experts firmly believe that the plunge in CO2 will do nothing to stop climate change. This just goes to show that despite the fact that the world has seemingly grinded to a halt, it is only global structural change that will really make the difference.
How Would The World Benefit From Green Covid Recovery Programmes?
As seen previously after large economic downturns such as the months following on after the 2008 recession it’s going to be easy for world leaders to slip back into a pre-Covid mentality when it comes to emissions. The natural instinct will be to strive to go back to ‘normal’ and further integrate our reliance on fossil fuels. And with increased post-lockdown production and less capital being available for investment into green technologies, a governmental change must occur to stop us from delving back into fossil fuel dependency. The good news is that in the eyes of the general public across the globe post-Covid packages must include environmental clauses. In a study which included the U.K, the U.S, Russia and China it was shown that roughly ¾ of citizens across 16 countries believe that environmental protection must be a priority moving forward.
If we move past public opinion, according to recent studies it has been shown that a green outlook on recovery could benefit the economy as well as the environment. The Oxford Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment paper shows that:
“Green fiscal recovery packages can act to decouple economic growth from GHG emissions and reduce existing welfare inequalities that will be exacerbated by the pandemic in the short-term and climate change in the long-term.”.
As such, in this period of economic upheaval, the way in which the world pieces itself back together could define the environmental landscape for decades to come. As previously mentioned the dip in harmful emissions that was seen during the global lockdown period won’t have any discernible effect on the future of the environment, but if policies are put in place on the back of Covid-19 then it will make all the difference in the fight against climate change.
The Financial Aspects Involved In Change Post-Covid
Not only will there need to be large financial allocations focused towards environmental advancements but also serious investment in improving biodiversity and healthcare. Just as various financial institutions are now gearing their risk analysis to include the looming threat of climate change, future governments will have to allocate risk to the environment worsening as well as possible future pandemics. Not only has Covid highlighted the need for investment in biodiversity but it has also shown the need for investment in the workforce and those who are considered ‘essential.
Further investment may be placed into the digitisation of various sectors as well as automation in an attempt to decrease pandemic risk. This may mean an influx of capital to both the e-commerce and virtualisation industries as well as a continuation of the ‘work from home’ culture in the long term. This would in turn decrease pollution and transform the modern workplace. We are also already seeing businesses choosing to limit their supplier chains so as to be able to monitor their business practices more carefully. According to a study conducted by Oliver Wyman this more intimate supply chain structure could decrease industrial pollution due to the way that “it gives a company leverage to insist on stricter measures to reduce emissions.
In summary, even though the lockdown slump in emissions was a small positive we still have a long way to go in order to create lasting change. The planet is still on track for devastating levels of CO2 in the atmosphere in the very near future but some businesses are taking the post-lockdown opportunity to create long-lasting change. The general public supports tying environmental funding into Covid recovery programmes but both governments and corporations are going to need serious convincing so as not to repeat the failures of the past.