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COVID-19 global climate impact may be brief

Friday, March 27, 2020

Subject

COVID-19 and climate.

Significance

The speed and scale of response to the COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented. One-quarter of the global population is now in lockdown, with governments worldwide declaring emergencies, mobilising extra funding and demanding drastic behavioural changes from citizens to stem the spread of the virus. Year-on-year carbon emissions are likely to decline notably in 2020 as a result of prolonged disruptions to economic activity. The longer these persist, the deeper the short-term carbon impact will be. Whether this is a blip, however (as seen in the 2008-09 financial crisis), or the start of a longer-term decline, will depend on the economic policies that governments assemble in response to the disruptions.

Impacts

  • Social distancing-induced remote working for white-collar jobs may trigger longer-term changes in business travel practices.
  • Reduced industrial and transport activity will improve local air quality, potentially easing pollution-related respiratory illness.
  • Climate-focused social movements will have to adapt to new forms of organisation in the absence of traditional mass protests.

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