• Life After COVID-19: Green Transformation or Back to Normal?

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Life After COVID-19: Green Transformation or Back to Normal?

Jun 11 2020

While the coronavirus pandemic has undoubtedly had a devastating effect on national economies and countless individual lives across the globe, there has been one small silver lining to the lockdown measures imposed to contain its spread: the environmental implications of COVID-19. Around the world, cities have seen fewer emissions and clearer skies, signalling a peek at how a greener tomorrow could look.

However, an eye-opening new report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) has highlighted how the benefits of lockdown may not be as pronounced as could have been hoped. According to IRENA's research, total emissions for 2020 are projected to be down by between 6% and 8%. Given that an annual drop-off of at least 7.6% will be required every year until 2050 if we are to maintain an increase in global temperatures of less than 1.5°C, it’s clear there lies much work ahead.

“A drop in the ocean”

The impact that the ongoing pandemic has had on our daily lives is monumental. Transport has been significantly reduced, many industries have come to a grinding halt and people all over the world have been confined to their homes for two months or more. It may have been expected that such drastic measures would have had a sizable impact on carbon emissions, but IRENA’s figures indicate that it will not nearly be enough.

“It shows that the challenge of avoiding dangerous climate change and getting to zero emissions is unbelievably hard,” explains Simon Evans, a climate science expert. “Even something which seems to be having seismic implications for the global economy, at least in the short term, like the current crisis, is something of a drop in the ocean compared to that challenge.”

The most recent report from the United Nations concluded that global emissions of CO2 must drop by a minimum of 7.6% every year for the next 30 years. Despite the significant upheaval to our lives and our economies that COVID-19 has wrought, that’s still the same figure as IRENA predicts will occur over the course of 2020. Of course, the actual percentage will vary depending on when exactly countries lift their lockdown restrictions, but the research reveals the difficulties which lie ahead.

An unprecedented opportunity for change

Fortunately, world governments are in a position to enact meaningful change like never before. With economies creaking under the strain of the pandemic, public investment can essentially make or break an industry. For example, the oil sector is stricken by uncertainty right now and national leaders should take this opportunity to implement plans for tangible change, rather than simply bailing out struggling tycoons as a kneejerk reaction.

Instead, governments must work alongside local and municipal bodies to encourage wholesale changes to our daily routines. Encouraging walking and cycling over road and rail transport could comprise one strategy, while transitioning to renewable energies and re-imagining the infrastructure of our urban epicentres are others.

Some countries have already taken steps on that road. Brussels has already pledged to build 40km of cycle paths in the city; Milan plans to remove cars, buses and lorries from 35km of roadways in the city centre and reserve them exclusively for pedestrians and cyclists; a group of 170 academics in the Netherlands have drafted a five-point manifesto for emerging into a more sustainable future. Given that a recent poll found barely 10% of Britons wished for things to return to how they were pre-COVID, it seems the public will is certainly present for the UK to follow suit. Whether it will do so or not depends largely on the political will.

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