When crises collide: climate change amidst the COVID-19 pandemic

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect every aspect of life as we know it, how is it impacting climate change?

‘Twins’ is how you might describe the threats of the on-going pandemic and climate change- they are two very similar challenges: there were early signs and we knew they were coming. Yet, we’ve not taken the problem seriously enough until it’s too late. But could the current pandemic offer hope for the climate change crisis?

Falling Emissions?

With the pandemic forcing many factories to shut and halting travel to a stop, greenhouse gas emissions have seen a rather incredible drop. In fact, the world could see a 5% decrease in carbon dioxide emissions this year- the biggest fall in carbon emissions since World War II (1). At first glance, this seems encouraging, considering that emissions must fall by 7.6% annually in order to limit the increase of global temperatures to 1.5C, as per the Paris Agreement.

The bad news is that it’s probably a temporary illusion. As experts have pointed out, emissions tend to fall when economies are hit: for example, the 2008 financial crisis led to a 3% drop in emissions (2). But as economies recover, emissions tend to follow suit. We’re already seeing this pattern in some countries- China reportedly saw a stunning 25% drop in carbon emissions as the pandemic shut factories down earlier this year, but these have since returned to normal levels.

The Fate of Climate Change

There are plenty of other opportunities- and risks- that the pandemic offers for climate change. On the investment side, low oil prices and a suffering oil industry, as a result of the plunging demand and price war, could present a valuable opportunity for growing investment into renewable energy (3). Meanwhile, ESG stocks have been outperforming other stocks during the crisis, building an ever more convincing case for sustainable investment, which focuses on environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors (4).

Post-pandemic, there are growing concerns that climate change may end up taking a backseat as governments focus on reviving economies. While some governments have not yet addressed this, several countries in the EU have already announced that their economic recovery plans will go in line with the European Green Deal (5). Although specific details are still lacking, it is an encouraging sign that climate change could remain a priority alongside economic recovery.

The short answer is that the pandemic’s impact on climate change remains unclear. What is obvious is that the type of drastic action we’ve taken to combat COVID-19 is desperately needed for the fight against climate change. But we mustn’t leave it till too late. As economies crash and global politics spiral into an ugly blame game, we must remember that what will ultimately suffer is human life- and our irreplaceable wildlife, too.

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