COVID19 and the Environment: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Since March, the world has been in the midst of a pandemic that has resulted in state-wide shut downs and record-high unemployment rates. The economic repercussions can be felt around the world with some businesses shutting their doors for good. In the midst of the chaos, there have been signs of environmental benefits largely due to a decrease in transportation. However, many of these benefits are temporary and will not make long-lasting impact without structural change.

A Glimmer of Hope in the Midst of Crisis

As the world began to respond to the COVID19 pandemic in early April, daily global carbon dioxide emissions declined nearly 17 percent. In the United States, daily emissions were down almost 32 percent, largely due to travel restrictions and empty streets. Lockdowns worldwide kept people inside, resulting in a decreased reliance on public transportation. This led to daily emissions from surface transport — cars, buses, and such — to decrease by 36 percent worldwide.

Unfortunately, these short-term benefits alone will not have a major impact on climate change. Depending on the length of restrictions worldwide, annual global carbon emissions are expected to decline anywhere from 4 to 7 percent from 2019 to 2020. The world emits around 40 billion tons of CO2 every year, and this year emissions could decrease to 37 billion tons. It is also expected for emissions to soar once all restrictions are lifted.

The Collapse of Coal and Fossil Fuels

As with many industries, coal and fossil fuels have been hit hard by the current pandemic, which could be the beginning of the end for two of the most polluting sectors. The current crisis has accelerated the demand for coal and oil, and has led to an increased reliance on renewable energy resources. For the first time in 130 years, renewable sources beat out coal in energy generation, which continues to decline by 15 percent each year for the last six years.

The coal industry has been struggling for years before the pandemic due to cheaper energy alternatives and the closing of several ageing plants. The fossil fuel industry has been declining recently, partly due to an unexpected incline in clean energy sources. The collapse of fossil fuel industry could lead global emissions to fall by 8 percent compared to 2019.

However, the continued decline of coal and fossil fuel has the potential to have serious repercussions on the global economy. The market value of fossil fuel companies makes up a quarter of the world's equity markets. In addition, the companies owe trillions of dollars to the world's bank. So, a collapse of these companies will impact an economy that is already in the midst of a recession.

The Future Has to be Green

The road to a post-COVID19 world comes with a lot of uncertainty. What is known is that long-term plans are needed to improve greenhouse gas emissions and aid the environment. A global pandemic alone is not the solution to climate change.