Covid-19 : Climate change and recovery strategy

 

‌‌By: Dr. Rajkumar Singh

With global economic activity ramping down as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, it is not surprising that emissions of a variety of gases related to energy and transport have been reduced. Traffic levels in the city were estimated to be down 35% compared with earlier normal days. Emissions of carbon monoxide, mainly due to cars and trucks, have fallen by around 50% in a couple of days. It is also found that there is a 5-10% drop in CO2 and a solid drop in methane as well. In an analysis carried out for the climate website Carbon Brief suggested there had been a 25% drop in energy use and emissions in China over a two week period. This is likely to lead to an overall fall of about 1% in China’s carbon emissions. Not only the developed countries, but the all 190 nations having coronavirus infected have recorded significant falls in nitrogen dioxide , which is related to reduced car journeys and industrial activity. The gas is a serious air pollutant and also indirectly contributes to the warming of the planet. With aviation grinding to a halt and millions of people working from home, a range of emissions across many countries are likely following the same downward path.

Impacts on change

While people working from home will likely increase the use of home heating and electricity, the curbing of commuting and the general slowdown in economies will likely have an impact on overall emissions. It is expected that there is  the smallest increase in May to May peak CO2 that we’ve had in the northern hemisphere since 2009, or even before. This view is echoed by others in the field, who believe that the shutdown will impact CO2 levels for the whole of this year. To a large extent it will depend on how long the pandemic lasts, and how widespread the slowdown is in the economy of the affected countries, especially, developed, but  most likely we will see something in the global emissions this year But most likely what is to make a major difference is the scale of carbon emissions and air pollution and how governments decide to re-stimulate their economies once the pandemic eases. In a matter of months, the world has been transformed. Thousands of people have already died, and hundreds of thousands more have fallen ill, from a coronavirus that was previously unknown before. For millions of others who have not caught the disease, their entire way of life has changed.

 Visible changes of Covid-19

All this change has also led to some unexpected consequences. As industries, transport networks and businesses have closed down, it has brought a sudden drop in carbon emissions compared with this time last year.  In China, people were instructed to stay at home and factories shuttered. The proportion of days with “good quality air” was up 11.4% compared with the same time last year in 337 cities across China, according to its Ministry of Ecology and Environment. In Europe, satellite images show fading away of harmful emissions.. A similar story is playing out in Spain and the UK. Only an immediate and existential threat like Covid-19 could have led to such a profound change so fast; at the time of writing, global deaths from the virus had passed 30,000, with more than 800,000 cases confirmed worldwide. As well as the toll of early deaths, and threatened the millions  have lost their livelihood as businesses struggle to cope with the restrictions being put in place to control the virus.It’s the precisely opposite of the drive towards sustainable development. A global pandemic that is claiming people’s lives certainly shouldn’t be seen as a way of bringing about environmental change either. For one thing, it’s far from certain how lasting this dip in emissions will be. When the pandemic eventually subsides, will carbon and pollutant emissions “bounce back” so much that it will be as if this clear-skied interlude never happened?.

Essential tasks ahead

In such a situation when we scale down energy use and industrial production, it does have these ecological benefits but the crucial thing to observe is that this is happening in an unplanned, chaotic way which is hurting people’s lives.. What we need is a planned approach to reducing unnecessary industrial activity that has no connection to human welfare and that disproportionately benefits already wealthy people as opposed to ordinary people. There are much more equitable, just and carefully planned ways to approach this kind of problem. Remarkably, a group of leading economists and global health experts including four Nobel prize-winners has urged the leaders of the G20 countries to devote trillions to helping poor countries out of the coronavirus crisis, or face a continuing crisis of migration, recurring global Covid-19 outbreaks, and social breakdown in the developing world. As of today developing countries are facing an unprecedented collective threat to human life, social cohesion and economic devastation. Massive economic losses will be incurred as countries desperately try to cope; people will migrate out of fear as the epidemic takes hold, leading to social disruption, violence and security issues.

At the juncture, some measures, such as providing emergency resources and medical help, could be taken quickly, but it was important to manage the process with a long-term view as well, using and expanding existing international institutions and programmes. To manage things, we cannot sprinkle money from helicopters in these economies because it would never reach the intended receivers, but we need  to  managed programmes and projects that can help these countries through this extremely difficult period. Infrastructure investment would take longer, but would be vital to ensure that countries can recover from an economic shock. In providing this help, the developed world would also be benefiting its own citizens, as if efforts to control Covid-19 in poor countries fail, the virus could become endemic, producing new waves of destructive outbreaks around the world.

The author is Professor and Head, University Department of Political Science, B.N.Mandal University, Madhepura, Madhepura-852113. Bihar, India. Email-rajkumarsinghpg@gmail.com

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