COVID19 emissions drop ‘no substitute’ for climate action

March 23th, 2020

Any COVID-19 triggered emission reductions cannot substitute concerted climate action, the World Meteorological Organization has said. 

The UN climate body
has warned that while there was an estimated 25 per cent CO2 emission reduction
over a four week period, levels of the greenhouse gas have been higher than
last year. 

A monthly average
taken in Hawaii showed that CO2 levels for February this year were at 414.11
parts per million (ppm), compared to 411.75 ppm in February 2019. 

“Despite local
reductions in pollution and improvement in air quality, it would be
irresponsible to downplay the enormous global health challenges and loss of
life as a result of the COVID19 pandemic,” WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas

“However, now is the
time to consider how to use economic stimulus packages to support a long-term
switch to more environmentally and climate-friendly business and personal
practices,” he continued. 

Mr Taalas also
stressed that “past experience” indicates that any emission decline during an
economic crisis is followed by “a rapid upsurge”. 

“We need to change that trajectory”, he said, and added that the world needed to “demonstrate the same unity and commitment to climate action and cutting greenhouse gas emissions as to containing the Coronavirus pandemic”. 

Air Quality 

Overall, the WMO
reports, nitrogen dioxide levels have been significantly reduced in China and
Italy during lockdown periods. 

The pollutant is
harmful to human health and also is described by the WMO as a “short-lived
climate forcer”. 

It has roughly a
one-day lifespan in the atmosphere before being deposited or reacting with
other gases, making the effects of emission reduction visible in a very short
period of time. 

Concentrations of
particulate matter have additionally declined, which also has negative impacts
on human health. 

Experts have stressed that the current crisis should not be expected to have a beneficial influence on the planet as the “climate doesn’t really respond to [reduced] emissions on that timescale,” according to Professor John Wenger of University College Cork. 

“We are definitely
seeing an effect on air quality and air pollution because of reduced air
travels but remember that we are talking about the climate,” Prof Wenger told The
Green News. 

“Any real impact on
the climate would require a long period of change,” he added. 

The economy will also
be drastically hit by the COVID-19 crisis, and pressure is growing for the Irish government to take rapid and concrete steps
to stabilise the economy that puts protection of those hit hardest by the
impacts of COVID-19 front and centre. 

Feasta, an ecological
economics group, is urging the government to introduce universal basic income
to improve financial security for everyone, irrespective of their employment

Doing so, the group says, would make it easier for people to adapt to enforced quarantine and reduce pressure on sick workers to get back to work and potentially spread the infection. 

About the Author

Kayle Crosson

Kayle is a multimedia journalist focused on climate and environmental issues and contributes to The Irish Times and The Green News.

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