The coronavirus diaries

3rd April 2020


Web p17 istock 1202790640

Related Topics

Related tags

  • Health

Author

IEMA

On BBC Radio 4's Today programme in March, one presenter suggested we look at the impact of coronavirus in a “positive way“ in terms of climate change. As the virus sweeps the globe, it is hard to see the bright side – but they did have a point.

Measures to contain the outbreak in China, for example, wiped out at least quarter of the country's CO2 emissions during a four-week period in January-February, according to analysis by Carbon Brief, and the virus “could have cut global emissions by 200m tonnes of CO2 to date“. Flight suspensions and cancellations cut global CO2 emissions from passenger flights by around 11% (or three million tonnes of CO2) in one two-week period. Some are predicting we could see the first global emissions fall since the 2008-09 financial crisis.

Remember what happened after that, though? The Chinese government launched a construction-heavy stimulus programme and emissions rocketed. Bloomberg has reported that, in some cities, local factories have been given power consumption targets to show 'business as usual'; machinery is running “even as their plants remain empty“.

Let's keep the glass half full, though. Reaction to the crisis has demonstrated what governments can achieve in a short space of time – and when guided by scientific advisors. Imagine if they took the same approach to climate change? As Jon Erickson, an ecological economist at the University of Vermont's Gund Institute, put it in an interview with dw.com: “If we truly treat climate as an emergency, as we are treating this pandemic as an emergency, we have to have a similar level of international coordination.“

It'll be interesting to see whether some new habits are formed and how they persist

On 10 March, a UN study showed that the world is “way off track meeting either the 1.5°C or 2°C targets“. Air pollution from burning fossil fuels is responsible for more than four million premature deaths a year. Could coronavirus show politicians what can be achieved, and give them the appetite to act? Businesses are certainly responding: staff are working from home; meetings have taken place virtually; reassurances have been made over food security. As one consultant wrote on LinkedIn: “It'll be interesting to see whether this encourages the sorts of change that we might want to make anyway to reduce our contribution to climate change. It'll also be interesting to see whether some new habits are formed and how they persist into the future.“

Prior to the outbreak, some companies had already adjusted travel policies to reduce the number of flights taken by staff. At PR company Greenhouse, for example, employees are offered extra paid travel if they choose slower, low-carbon land or sea options over flying, as part of the Climate Perks Scheme from non-profit Possible. Such a scheme has cost (as well as practical and personal) implications, and not all of us can hitch rides across the Atlantic on racing boats, like Greta Thunberg. However, this outbreak is forcing us to rethink our plans and lifestyles.

People shouldn't be pushed too far, too fast, though, according to Guy Newey, strategy and performance director at government-funded research group Energy Systems Catapult. One of the dangers, he said on the Today programme, is thinking that the “dramatic way“ lifestyles have changed in the face of coronavirus are a template for our future dealing with climate change. “I don't think that's necessarily what people want or would accept,“ he said. “You have to take people on this journey.“

Still, there's nothing wrong with picking more people up. Some 16% of Britons are cutting back on flying, according to research by Swiss bank UBS. Now – as we look for Easter holidays closer to home and discover that virtual meetings can be productive – is the perfect time to encourage these habits to stick. Coronavirus has forced us to cope, so why can't we continue to do so in the name of climate change?

David Burrows is a freelance writer and researcher.

Picture credit: iStock


Transform articles

Regulator publishes new code to tackle 'greenwashing'

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has published a new 'Green Claims Code' to ensure businesses are not misleading consumers about their environmental credentials.

22nd September 2021

Read more

Thames Water has been fined £4m after untreated sewage escaped from sewers below London into a park and a river.

30th July 2021

Read more

In June 2021, the UK’s governing Conservative Party lost a by-election in Chesham and Amersham, a seat it had held for 47 years. The principal reasons reported as the cause of this defeat were proposed planning reforms and the promotion of housebuilding on greenfield sites across the south of England.

30th July 2021

Read more

Half of consumers worldwide now consider the sustainability of food and drink itself, not just its packaging, when buying, a survey of 14,000 shoppers across 18 countries has discovered. This suggests that their understanding of sustainability is evolving to include wellbeing and nutrition, with sustainable packaging now considered standard.

30th July 2021

Read more

The total cost of waste crime in England has increased by 53% in just three years, and now costs the country nearly £1bn annually, a recent study has uncovered.

23rd July 2021

Read more

The oil and gas industry is set to burn through its allocated carbon budget 13 years early unless decisive action is taken immediately, new analysis has found.

22nd July 2021

Read more

The sale of new diesel and petrol heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) will be banned in the UK by 2040 under proposals unveiled in the government's transport decarbonisation plan yesterday.

15th July 2021

Read more

New jobs that help drive the UK towards net-zero emissions are set to offer salaries that are almost one-third higher than those in carbon-intensive industries, research suggests.

5th July 2021

Read more

The UK will no longer use unabated coal to generate electricity from October 2024, one year earlier than originally planned, the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy has announced.

2nd July 2021

Read more

Media enquires

Looking for an expert to speak at an event or comment on an item in the news?

Find an expert