The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared a global pandemic as the coronavirus spreads rapidly across the world, reaching over 200 nations. With a total of 468,299 coronavirus cases and 21,180 deaths, many countries were forced to shut down many of their cities to contain the virus. Worldometers.info, a website that provides counters and real-time statistics for diverse topics, reported that there are currently 333,307 infected patients -- 96% of these are in mild condition while 4% are in serious or critical condition.
The disease caused by the coronavirus, however, has caused a more intense pandemic. It is still growing and evolving as countries’ case totals and death tolls are constantly changing. Their death rates are not static and will continue to fluctuate. Thus, scientists and medical professionals highly recommend widespread testing, which could decrease the death rates in many countries.
"If indeed we discover that there are far more cases that are actually being reported, and that one of the primary reasons for this is that we're just not detecting asymptomatic or mild or moderately symptomatic cases that don't end up seeking healthcare, then our estimates for the case fatality rate will likely decrease," Lauren Ancel Meyers, an epidemiologist at the University of Texas at Austin, said.
While experts find ways of curing the patients and help in containing the virus, governments across the world are also doing their part in stopping the virus from spreading even more. Many businesses and restaurants decided to close, events have been canceled, and local governments ordered citizens to stay at home and observe self-quarantine. The sudden pandemic has caused everyone to avoid the streets and going out. Even institutions that are vital in keeping our economy moving forward have been forced to stop their operations.
Will The Pandemic Slow Down Climate Change?
Now that many countries have ordered a complete lockdown, the true global economic impact of the COVID-19 outbreak is slowly being seen. According to the World Economic Forum, an independent international organization committed to improving the state of the world by engaging business, political, academic, and other leaders of society to shape global, regional, and industry agendas, tumbling stock markets reveal growing fears about the potential economic impact.
A recent survey of 74 US and European experts show how COVID-19 is affecting and will affect the economy. About 19% of the US panel strongly agreed that the pandemic will likely cause a major recession; 44% agreed; 31% were uncertain, and 8% disagreed. Meanwhile, 48% of the European panel strongly agreed; 34% agreed; 13% were uncertain, and 4% disagreed.
But, recent news showed that the pandemic might have positive impacts on our planet. Copernicus, the EU’s Earth Observation Programme, reported that levels of PM2.5 pollution, described by the WHO as the most harmful type of pollution, over China decreased by about 20% to 30% in February 2020. This is mainly because there has been a reduced demand for coal and other fossil fuels linked to the closure of factories and less road traffic.
If PM2.5 concentrations in China remains at this level, the annual avoided number of premature deaths could amount to 54,000 and 109,000. That would correspond to a reduction in deaths from air pollution of 5% to 10%. An analysis released by Carbon Brief showed that the lockdown and reduction in economic activity in the country led to an estimated 25% reduction in carbon emissions. However, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres stated that this will not end our problem with air pollution or climate change.
"We should not overestimate the fact that emissions have been reduced for some months. We will not fight climate change with the virus. It is important that all the attention that needs to be given to fight this disease does not distract us from the need to defeat climate change,” Guterres said.
According to Phys.org, carbon dioxide has remained in the atmosphere and oceans for centuries. Thus, any temporary fall in emissions due to the Coronavirus epidemic will not entirely change the current problems we are facing due to global warming or climate change. Petteri Taalas, Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), stated that past experience suggests that emission declines during economic crises are followed by a rapid upsurge.
"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. 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,” Taalas said.
A study published in Nature Climate Change showed that the 2008-2009 global financial crisis was followed by strong emissions growth in emerging economies, a return to emissions growth in developed economies, and an increase in the fossil fuel intensity of the world economy. This means that Earth will continue to warm up if greenhouse gases continue to increase.
”The world needs to demonstrate the same unity and commitment to climate action and cutting greenhouse gas emissions as to containing the Coronavirus pandemic. Failure in climate change mitigation could lead to greater human life and economic losses during the coming decades,” he said.
The Pandemic Could Help Tackle Climate Change
While the post-coronavirus growth projection by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) shows that carbon dioxide emissions may decline 0.3% in 2020, experience during the global financial crisis indicates that the carbon efficiency of the global economy may improve much more slowly during a crisis. This could mean that there’s a high possibility that carbon dioxide emissions could still grow.
The good news is that governments can use this experience to discuss climate change. Governments around the world are announcing economic stimulus measures, which may affect how emissions evolve in the future. They could use this as an opportunity to invest the stimulus money in structural changes which could lead to reduced emissions after economic growth returns, including further development of clean technologies.
At the same time, this is a great opportunity to show people how curbing carbon emissions could potentially heal our planet. This could help more than 800 million people - 11% of the world’s population - who are currently vulnerable to climate change impacts such as droughts, floods, heatwaves, extreme weather events, and sea-level rise.