Coronavirus May Neutralise Climate Hysteria For Now As Pandemic Threat Looms

  • Date: 09/03/20
  • AFP

Paris (AFP) – Economic shock waves from the coronavirus outbreak have curbed carbon pollution from China and beyond, but hopes for climate benefits from the slowdown are likely to be dashed quickly, experts say.

As governments prepare to spend their way out of the crisis, including with large infrastructure projects, global warming concerns will be little more than an afterthought, dwarfed by a drive to prop up a stuttering world economy, they say.

Preparations for a make-or-break climate summit in November are already off track, with host Britain focused on its Brexit transition, and the challenge to its health system of the gathering epidemic.

Like an unintended lab experiment, the global health emergency demonstrates the cause-and-effect relationship that drives global warming.

In the four weeks up to March 1, China’s discharge of CO2 fell 200 million tonnes, or 25 percent, compared to the same period last year, according to the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) — equivalent to annual CO2 emissions from Argentina, Egypt or Vietnam.

As the country’s economy slowed to a crawl, coal consumption at power plants in China declined by 36 percent, and the use of oil at refineries by nearly as much.

Other major economies are bound to sputter too.

The outbreak has already drained stock markets of $9 trillion in value, and could end up costing the global economy up to $2.7 trillion, according to Bloomberg Economics.

“When you turn off the global fossil fuel economy, greenhouse gas emissions go down, air quality improves,” said Jon Erickson, a professor of sustainability science and policy at the University of Vermont.

But any climate silver lining will be short-lived, experts warn.

“The emissions reductions we see now because of the epidemic are temporary, not structural,” said Imperial College London’s Joeri Rogelj, a lead scientist on the UN’s climate science advisory panel, the IPCC.

– Lock-step –

“If anything, it makes mitigation efforts harder, because it reduces our resources to invest in the transformations needed for climate change protection.”

There are already signs that Beijing — impatient to reboot China’s economy — will rain down cash on carbon-intensive infrastructure projects, as happened after the global recession in 2008, and again in 2015.

“Initial announcements of stimulus have had no environmental emphasis whatsoever,” noted Lauri Myllyvirta, lead analyst at CREA.

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