Climate change poses a threat not only to species and places but also to people. The planet now has more intense and longer allergy seasons, for instance, because the warm temperatures in some areas extend the periods when plants release their pollen. The foods we love cost more and are becoming less nutritious as fossil fuels are changing the composition of fruits and vegetables. Heatwaves have also become more common, long-lasting, and severe. The list of effects of climate change could go on and by 2050, temperature could reach 0.3 °C. This could be avoided if the economic recovery plan after Covid-19 will incorporate climate-friendly choices, a new study finds.
Effect of Covid-19 on climate change
The international study led by the University of Leeds states that an economic recovery that is focused on green stimulus and reduction in fossil fuel investments could avoid future warming of 0.3C by 2050. The global land and ocean surface temperature for March 2020 was 1.16C, characterized by warmer-than-average conditions worldwide, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Piers M. Forster from the Priestley International Centre for Climate of the University of Leeds started the study with his daughter, Harriet. They studied the newly accessible global mobility data from Apple and Google and calculated how ten different air pollutants and greenhouse gases changed between February and June 2020 in 123 countries. Then, they brought a wider team to help them with the analysis.
The researchers said due to the global response to the Covid-19 pandemic, it led to a sudden reduction of both air pollutants and GHG emissions. Since governments around the world enforced restrictions on travel and work, analysis of mobility data from Apple and Google shows that the world mobility declined by 10% or more during April. In five or more nations, their mobility declined by 80%. The team then used the emission changes in GHGs and air pollution to predict the global temperature response.
Post-lockdown recovery model
Forster and the team said that the choices people will make now could give the world a strong chance to avoid 0.3C of additional warming by mid-century. The green recovery could spell a difference between success and failure in terms of avoiding dangerous climate change. They likewise highlight the opportunity to lower traffic pollution by encouraging cycle lanes, public transport, and low emissions vehicles.
Climate change could be worse than Covid-19
Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates also recently warned that by 2060, climate change could be as “deadly” as Covid-19. By 2100, it could be five times as deadly as today’s pandemic. Gates has traveled around the world before the Covid-19 travel restrictions, warning people and governments that a pandemic could arrive within the decade. When he delivered a TED Talk in 2015, he mentioned how nations are so well-prepared for nuclear war, which is not likely to happen than a pandemic. “There’s one area, though, where the world isn’t making many processes and that’s pandemic preparedness,” Gates said.
In 2018, the philanthropist repeated the warning at a discussion hosted by the New England Journal of Medicine and the Massachusetts Medical Society. He said there’s a “reasonable probability” that the world will experience an outbreak that could kill 30 million people. He cautions that the world should be prepared for it as if we were preparing for war.
Now, the billionaire’s next prediction is sobering and appears to agree with Forster’s team. Gates wrote in his official blog that in just a few decades, climate change will be just as awful as the Covid-19 pandemic or it could even be worse. He mentions how Covid-19 shocked the world. It is leading to economic hardship, making people afraid to leave home, and is causing a tragic number of deaths not seen in many generations. While it may be difficult to think about a problem, like climate change, now, we cannot deny the fact of another looming crisis.
C02 emissions reduced at the “greatest possible cost”
He added that there has been a “meaningful reduction” of emissions this year and the world would be in great shape if we could continue the rate of decrease every year. “Unfortunately, we can’t,” he added. To achieve the 8% reduction in global Co2 emissions, more than 600,000 people died and tens of millions of people are out of work. Car traffic was also half than what it was a year before. Air traffic also came to a halt. “These reductions are being achieved at, literally, the greatest possible cost,” Gates continued.
However, he believes that if we learn the lessons from today’s pandemic, we can also approach climate change more informed about the consequences of our inaction. He advised us to let innovation and science lead the way and make sure solutions work even for the world’s poorest people. In 2016, countries with the highest per capita greenhouse gas emissions were Qatar (31.11 tonnes per capita), Guyana (39.3t), and Paraguay (21.91t), among others, shared Our World in Data.
Reductions in N02 emissions during Covid-19 lockdown
Meanwhile, Statista shares there has also been a noticeable reduction in the amount of nitrogen dioxide (N02) emissions throughout Europe during the Covid-19 lockdown. The largest drop in N02 emissions was observed in Portugal (58%) followed by Spain (51%), Norway (48%), Croatia (47%), France (44%), Italy (43%), Finland (41%), Romania (36%), United Kingdom (36%), Belgium (35%), Austria (30%), Sweden (28%), and Germany (27%).
As for Piers Forster and the team’s research, they pointed out that the behavioral shifts during the Covid-19 lockdown are only a tiny impact on the climate. This mainly because the reduction in emission from people’s confinement is only temporary. Yet, the present situation offers an opportunity for the world to create and implement a structural economic change that will help us move towards a net-zero or a more resilient future. We are also given a glimpse of how to lower traffic pollution, which will result in better air quality and consequently positive health effects. Immediately, it will also start to cool the climate.
It makes sense why the University of Leeds researchers believe that the pandemic offers a make or break chance for the world to change the course in how they reduce emissions and adapt to climate impacts.