The first peer-reviewed analysis of the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on global carbon emissions has reported that daily emissions of the greenhouse gas plunged 17% by early April compared to 2019 levels. However, the annual decline is likely to be only about 7%, if some restrictions to halt the spread of the coronavirus remain in place. If they are lifted in mid-June, the fall for the year is likely to be 4%. That would still be the biggest annual drop in emissions since World War II. While the steep drop is good news, it will make little dent in the larger battle against global warming. A UN Environment Programme report last year found that emissions must fall by 7.6% every year this decade to meet the Paris Agreement’s goal of checking warming at 1.5°C.
In an interview to The Guardian, one of the scientists involved in the new study said that experience of the crisis has shown that changes in behaviour by individuals — such as not flying, working from home and driving less — can help cut emissions partly. But the bulk of emission sources remain intact, which suggests that the world needs structural changes in the economy and industry. That’s why the coronavirus-induced slowdown must be used as a moment to build more sustainable, resilient and inclusive economies. Otherwise, the climate crisis will not just have its own set of effects but also lead to more health scares, environmental degradation, natural disasters, and inequality, with vulnerable communities most affected. Every crisis now has a strong environment dimension. Use the dip in emissions to imagine a new, more eco-friendly, world.