How the Coronavirus is Taking on Climate Change

by Anshul Dash with Kunaal Venugopal

The coronavirus pandemic has engulfed our daily life. As the global cases mount and governments enforce lockdown procedures, the fear of the coronavirus have only grown. However, the effects of the mandated social distancing have an unforeseen benefit.

The rate of carbon dioxide emissions has started to slow down, and coronavirus is the key. Global manufacturing powerhouse China holds Wuhan, a small city that was home to the epicenter of China, and their national manufacturing shutdowns have actually halted the global market, slowing down economic growth.

So What?

There is a strong connection between economic activity and carbon dioxide emissions. The coronavirus pandemic has affected stock markets in the past few months, drastically reducing their performance to the point where it is comparable to its performance during the global financial crisis of 2008. As a matter of fact, an indicator of the economy’s holding, the S&P 500 Index is in pre-Trump administration standings– his 3 years of work was wiped out in only 1 month. The low economic activity signifies lower carbon dioxide emissions, thus mitigating climate change

The fall in economic activity is primarily because of the actions taken to mitigate the spread of the virus. Originating from Wuhan, China, the virus is now an issue in over 160 countries. In fact, over 50% of coronavirus cases are from outside of China. In order to slow down the spread of the virus, government officials have decided to put their countries on lockdown, meaning that all shops and restaurants are closed, and people have to stay inside their homes. 

With the devastation brought to the world by the recent outbreak of the novel coronavirus, it’s difficult to look for positives. Although the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions across the world seems to fill this role, its effects are not what we assume. This mitigation will neither help reduce the rate of climate change nor result in a downward trend of emissions in the future, but may actually do the opposite. 

The coronavirus lockdown in China has led to approximately a 25% reduction in energy use over a two-week period. Reductions are also being observed in European countries such as Italy, where strict lockdown measures have been enforced due to the high percentage of the population diagnosed with COVID-19. 

However, these reductions in emissions may only be temporary. If the outbreak is contained, people will return to their work. Furthermore, they will have to make up for lost time, resulting in the same overall emissions, but in a shorter amount of time. The question is, can this temporary reduction mitigate climate change?

To answer this question, we have to look at past history. For example, in World War II, there were similar reductions in greenhouse gas emissions that followed the economic recession of the time. Nonetheless, the overall trend of emissions continued on an upward trend following the war, even with the temporary mitigation. Additionally, abruptly removing these emissions can have a negative impact, and could even accelerate climate change. Andrea Dutton, a climate scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, says that the pollution in the atmosphere “actually [has] a shielding effect” and “If you take that away, then it has the opposite effect.”

These signs predict a decrease in carbon dioxide emission levels in 2020, which will slow down the rate of climate change. With a lesser amount of greenhouse gases being emitted into the atmosphere, less heat will be absorbed, which will lead to decrease in global warming, for now.