WILL COVID-19 HAVE AN IMPACT ON THE CLIMATE

Famous tourist hotspots are empty, the streets of major cities are deserted, and the world has been asked to stay at home – what impact does this have on global emissions and the effect on climate change?

Pollution and greenhouse gas emissions have fallen globally as unnecessary travel and movement has come to a halt. Compared to this time last year, levels of pollution in New York have reduced by nearly 50% due to the measures put in place to contain the spread of the coronavirus. Likewise, in China emissions fell 25% at the start of the year and the proportion of days with ‘good quality air’ was up 11.4%.

A global pandemic should not be considered a reasonable way to tackle climate change but it’s not certain how quickly the emissions will ‘bounce back’ once the virus subsides. Emissions have fallen in the short term, due to measures to stop unnecessary travel, with transport making up 23% of global carbon emissions annually but it’s unclear whether these emissions will return to normal or potentially even higher once travel is allowed.

So, will attitudes change to global travel and change after the pandemic subsides? Some experts believe that travel may increase after the bans are lifted, due to increased holidays and a need to travel abroad for work, whilst others believe that an extended period of time at home, with family, may have shown many consumers that they do not need to travel by plane in order to go on holiday.

Trade on the other hand, is likely to see a change. Globalisation is the process of businesses operating on an international scale – this is not a new concept, but the recent scale and speed of globalisation has meant that almost every major business uses it. It has helped raise incomes and rapidly develop economies but carries a huge risk of increased contagion. The Covid-19 pandemic has made firms, and people, realise that things need to change, as they’ve realised the risks they’ve been taking.

Professor Richard Portes, Professor of Economics at London Business School said: ‘Look at trade. Once supply chains were disrupted [by coronavirus], people started looking for alternative suppliers at home, even if they were more expensive. If people find domestic suppliers, they will stick with them… because of those perceived risk.’

As consumers, and businesses, look to buy domestically or move industrial work or services ‘home’, the carbon footprint of those products or services will drastically be lowered, having a long-term effect on global emissions.

The short-term effects of coronavirus on global emissions are very easy to see, lowered pollution and emissions are being seen globally but it’s difficult to understand the long-term effects that this pandemic will have on the overall global carbon footprint.