The coronavirus is actually a good thing for climate change

Air traffic decreased by 4.3 per cent in February

For all of its obvious negative aspects, the new coronavirus has one notable perk – with the number of people avoiding travel amongst other things, the virus is inadvertently contributing towards reducing the effects of the climate emergency.

Many events have had to be altered or changed for this new, temporary way of life – several international conferences and meetings have been made virtual (the UN Climate Change committee announced that it won’t hold any physical meetings for the foreseeable future in an attempt to tackle the impacts of the virus), but whilst it’s worth noting that climate change may be positively affected, people’s lives are being put majorly on hold. Will this be what’s needed to trigger serious policy change? Will there be a long term impact on climate change as many prepare to start implementing themselves back into the world again?

Ed Conway of The Times wrote in a recent article that “if you were a young, hardline environmentalist looking for the ultimate weapon against climate change, you could hardly design anything better than coronavirus.

“Unlike most other such diseases, it kills mostly the old who, let’s face it, are more likely to be climate sceptics. It spares the young. Most of all, it stymies the forces that have been generating greenhouse gases for decades.”

Although a little extreme, Conway has a point – the fact is that, right now, this virus could see some of the largest decreases in climate emissions seen in a long time, far surpassing any current governmental policy on the issue. Supposedly, analysts claim that this will be the first significant fall in emissions since the 2008-09 financial crisis, with occasions like these being an incredibly effective way of stopping climate change due to its changing of attitudes, physically stopping people from partaking in activities that are detrimental to the planet and, as Conway rather bluntly put it, removing some of those that are most likely to be sceptical of the whole idea.

Transport became the most polluting UK sector in 2018, and is set to be the element of our activity that is impacted the most during the pandemic as people self isolate. During this time, they won’t be using nearly as much road transport as they would otherwise which, according to the Office for National Statistics, increased by 29 per cent from 1990 to 2018. This could perhaps culminate in a timely reconsideration on the ban on diesel and petrol vehicles in London, which is set to be by 2040, with a subsequent goal for the UK to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

According to The Washington Post, “Experts say that greenhouse gas emissions in China, the world’s largest current contributor to climate change, are down 25 per cent in recent weeks as the country conducted a massive societal intervention to stop the spread of the virus. Air pollution is also down, due to decreased driving and less coal burning.” This extends to air travel, with The Guardian claiming that “global air traffic decreased by 4.3 per cent in February with cancellations of tens of thousands of flights to affected areas.” The impact of the virus on the climate is overwhelmingly positive when it comes to the restriction of travel.

COVID19 is currently slowing climate change due to its impact on people’s longstanding activities and habits that are detrimental to the earth. More clearly needs to be done once the virus has peaked and people start t0 fall back into the same harmful behaviours. Yes, everything is on hold right now, but maybe this is the event that we all needed to inspire real long term change.

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