The editorial of Economist news magazine cites similarities of climate change and the COVID-19. Both are global crises, borderless, and demands significant changes in human behaviour and economic activities.
However, environmentalists are asking why do governments and the public don’t have the same resolve towards climate change with what they are showing in containing the virus?
And what are the lessons we should learn from the pandemic that can be applied to the climate crises?
The difference between coronavirus and climate change is the time that affects the immediacy or urgency of action.
While COVID-19 effects are immediate and fast – people have died and got sick, thus the rapid shutdown of travel, movement, and business globally.
Climate change, on the other hand, are also killing people though slowly and gradually through extreme natural events like floods, storms, and wildfires.
Solutions to climate change are about transformation – shifting to renewables and low-carbon technology while COVID-19 is about lockdowns and cutting movement to the most essential things like buying food or medicines, which is not sustainable nor desirable in the long term.
However, when the pandemic ends the climate crises is here to stay.
An article by the Economist says that the coronavirus pandemic-caused lockdowns around the world have done well for the environment. It cited Venice’s canals running clear, drops in carbon emission in South Korea, 8-10% in New York City, and of course China’s 25% emissions reduction in February.
But the question remains, will these reductions continue after the pandemic. Experts say it is highly unlikely and instead, it could even be a turn for the worst.
If the OECD’s forecast of a fall in the global GDP comes true due to the pandemic, then a fall in emissions will follow as well.
However, based on the global financial crisis of 2007-2009, there was a rapid growth in China and India’s economy after the crises, where stimulus packages specially designed to promote carbon-intensive areas of business were introduced.
In the United States, President Trump is pushing the $2 Trillion infrastructure bill to revive its economy as a response to the coronavirus pandemic. The infrastructure bill will be used to revamp America’s roads, bridges, tunnels, and ports, create jobs, and rebuild the country’s infrastructure (Stein & Kim, 2020).
In one of his daily press conferences amid the pandemic, President Trump stated that the US will seriously invest in infrastructure which would create jobs and set aside “green technology.”
A hint perhaps that the US will ease its carbon policies in favour to save its economy badly hit by the coronavirus. With millions of Americans losing their jobs and struggling to put food on their tables, who can blame him?
The Economist article mentions Canada preparing to bail-out its oil and gas industry, the Chinese provinces prepared to spend $3.5trn on construction, and China deferring on an auction to build several large solar farms.
These plans no doubt will push renewable energy and green technology aside as governments scramble to revive their economies and recover their losses. The postponement of COP26 in Glasgow this November can derail countries’ determination to reduce emissions.
But there is still hope.
Pre-COVID, the airline industry launched a carbon offsetting scheme called CORSIA which is designed to maintain a net global emission from aeroplanes through tree planting projects and carbon capture schemes in landfill sites. Hopefully, airlines will still follow through with this plan after the pandemic.
Governments spending to boost their economies can turn towards climate-friendly versions of heavy-emitting industries like transportation, construction, and energy into solar energy, battery for electric batteries, and invest money for research on hydrogen-powered fuel cells, and zero-emission production of cement and steel, the article said.
Whichever direction the governments will take, either the old familiar path of fossil fuels or the renewable technology path to revive the economy, we will know once countries will have overcome the pandemic. That will be when the anti-COVID-19 vaccine will have been discovered and produced, the soonest.