As people were forced to stay in their homes with nationwide lockouts across much of the world earlier this year to contain the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, our collective carbon footprint began to decline. In April, daily global carbon emissions fell 17%.
That was good news. The problem is that the next month atmospheric CO2 levels hit their highest monthly average ever recorded in May: 417.1 parts per million.
The reason is that most of the CO2 that we have already pumped into the planet's atmosphere is there in the long term and short-term drops in additional emissions won't make much of a difference. Our carbon emissions will need to be permanently reduced if we want to slow down climate change.
Suspended due to pandemic
Meanwhile, the global economy has been in suspended animation for months, but it won't stay there forever. As the global economy has taken a massive hit in the wake of the pandemic, the governments of many countries will be eager to restart their economies at full speed, which is sure to lead to high carbon emissions.
“Most of the demand for products and services will be postponed rather than destroyed, so when the entire economy safely reopens, there will be a massive spike in economic activity, probably even outpacing pre-outbreak activity. ”, Write the authors of a new study, published in the journalJoule .
That is why the pandemic has been a mixed blessing. On the one hand, the much tighter finances of the global economic downturn will also affect the rate of clean energy investments for the worse. "This global crisis will certainly defer clean energy investments," says lead author Kenneth Gillingham, associate professor of environmental and energy economics at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.
"Overall clean energy jobs were cut by nearly 600,000 at the end of April, as investments in energy efficiency and renewable generation have plummeted," explains Marten Ovaere, a postdoctoral researcher at the same institution who co-authored the paper. "If that continues, it could significantly delay momentum toward a clean energy future."
Then there is the issue of plastic pollution
The pandemic has worsened the already acute state of plastic pollution with large quantities of disposable plastic masks, gloves and other items being discarded on a daily basis. Already in early March, when the pandemic was just beginning to make its impacts felt, a sharp spike was seen in places like Hong Kong in the amount of discarded surgical masks and other items littering beaches and other areas.
That said, the pandemic has also led to positive changes in the lifestyles of millions of people around the world and has shown us that significant large-scale action on the environment is possible. If, once the pandemic is over, we go back to business in a cleaner and greener way in the coming months and years, we can make a world of difference for the planet and for ourselves.