Coronavirus and Climate Change
- The outbreak of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) will require companies to embrace home office, at least temporarily. With the new working model, GHG emissions from urban mobility will be significantly reduced.
- At the height of the crisis, in February, China reduced its emissions by 25%.
- In times of economic emergency, resources for the environmental area are the most vulnerable to budget cuts, which can endanger the goals of the Paris Agreement.
- The high engagement of governments in the fight against the coronavirus makes it clearer that the ability to overcome the climate crisis depends more on political mobilization rather than governmental capacity.
In order to prevent the exponential explosion of cases of COVID-19 contamination, so that health systems are not overburdened and are able to properly treat the groups at greatest risk, several governments have implemented measures to prevent agglomerations. Under quarantine or a temporary ban on non-essential establishments, the global community is forced to maintain its activities, if possible, remotely.
It is not difficult to predict that, in the coming weeks, investments will be made by companies and organizations to make the home office viable on a large scale, as well as webinars instead of face-to-face encounters. Organizations that do not yet use these options commonly don't do it for a general concern of productivity loss of their employees. This forced test will guide rational executive decisions in this regard.
If such an experience turns out to be positive, the model will possibly be widely implemented continuously, reducing the emission of greenhouse gases (GHG) related to urban mobility. China, the first epicenter of the crisis and leader in annual emissions since 2005, reduced its emissions by at least 25% in February, the peak of the outbreak, at the cost of a strong economic impact.
The global crisis that arises as an outcome of the pandemic will remove from circulation a considerable part of the capital previously available for investments. These amounts have been increasingly directed towards energy projects, either for renewable sources or for greater efficiency. The scarcity of these resources, coupled with the drop in oil prices, is likely to slow the urgent energy transition to a clean matrix.
As aligned in 2015 in Paris, the committed nations are expected to present in 2020 a review of their NDCs by the years of 2030 and 2050. With all the focus and discussions focused on the virus, it is likely that civil society will promote less pressure on their representatives regarding the climate topic, which could result in the new commitments being far below what they could be in a standard scenario. The probable one-off reduction in GHG emissions due to the economic effects of COVID-19, which are expected to rise again after the peak of the crisis, may serve as a pretext for the parties to engage even less.
It is essential to remember that, in the context of economic distress, governments face fiscal struggle. Public managers who opt for austerity measures tend to severely cut fundings from environmental programs, generally considering that the political impact of this containment is less than that of other options (está correto).
However, few have in mind that the effects of climate change, aggravated by such cuts, will be felt even harder by the economy, causing long and constant cycles of recessions and depressions, in addition to other socioeconomic impacts. Various surveys show that as long as the Earth continues to warm, there will be an increase in the appearance and intensity of diseases. Covid-19 may be just a preview of the future.
No one was able to predict the outbreak, but the causes and impacts of climate change have been known for more than 30 years. Different governments are acting vigorously to avoid the worst circumstances of the coronavirus. Hence, it has become clear that the slow reaction to the climate crisis is not about capacity, it is about political motivation. So, will there be general mobilization to reverse this scenario?
*By: Alexandre Batista
CBC Project Coordinator
Ph.D. graduate in Environmental Policies - UFRJ