By Jonathan Watts
Excerpt: Governments should act with the same urgency on climate as on the coronavirus, leading campaigners say, as evidence mounts that the health crisis is reducing carbon emissions more than any policy…
In China – the source of the disease and the world’s largest carbon emitter – the actions taken by authorities have inadvertently demonstrated that hefty 25% carbon dioxide cuts can bring less traffic and cleaner air with only a small reduction in economic growth, according to a study by Carbon Brief.If this trend continues, analysts say it is possible this will lead to the first fall in global emissions since the 2008-09 financial crisis. Even a slowdown in CO2 could buy time for climate action and, more importantly, inspire long-term behavioural changes – particularly in travel.
On the advice of health authorities, millions of people are avoiding school journeys, shopping runs and office commutes. Tens of thousands of flights have been cancelled. Italian bishops are not conducting mass. Across much of central China, factories have been closed, with knock-on effects around the world.
The virus has disrupted several events linked to the fossil fuel industry. In the past few weeks, the Geneva Motor Show was cancelled, after Switzerland banned all public gatherings of more than 1,000 people. In Houston, the giant annual CeraWeek gathering of oil and gas executives was called off, as was the Formula One grand prix in Shanghai.
More carbon savings will come from the cancellations of international conferences. Donald Trump has postponed a 14 March summit with the leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The London Book Fair, the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, Adobe’s annual live summit and even South by Southwest, the huge annual film, music and media conference in Austin, Texas, have all been called off, which means thousands of tonnes less CO2 from flights taken by international delegates.
Global air traffic decreased by 4.3% in February with cancellations of tens of thousands of flights to affected areas. But Rob Jackson, the chair of Global Carbon Project, said this would only be meaningful if it led to long-term behavioural change, particularly in aviation, which is one of the fastest growing source of emissions.