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How do the environmental impacts of COVID-19 pandemic compare with past economic slowdowns?
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The global economic recession as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic would lower energy use, as any recession is believed to do. However, fossil fuel use has to decline by 10% around the world, and would need to be sustained for a year to show up clearly in carbon dioxide levels, as highlighted by the Scripps Institute of Oceanography.

The global financial crash (GFC) of 2008-09 lowered emissions by 1.3%. Emissions could fall by 5% due to the COVID-19 pandemic & the world’s oil demand could fall by more than five times the drop in demand triggered by the GFC. The bad news is this - after the GFC, there were hopes that the stimulus spending would green the economy but instead it boosted fossil fuel use and carbon emissions shot up by 5%, which could also be the case with COVID-19.

Scientists can find similar reductions in emissions in other points of history where economic slowdowns occurred, such as World War II and the Great Recession. Such events made small changes in emissions, but didn't change the overall upward trend.

 

References

Ambrose J, “Carbon Emissions from Fossil Fuels Could Fall by 2.5bn Tonnes in 2020” (The Guardian, April 2020)

Carrington D, Ambrose J and Taylor M, “Will the Coronavirus Kill the Oil Industry and Help Save the Climate?” (The Guardian, April 2020)

Conca J, “How Will The Coronavirus Affect Energy Use In America?” (Forbes, March 2020)

First Person: COVID-19 Is Not a Silver Lining for the Climate, Says UN Environment Chief” (UN News, April 2020)

Henriques M, “Will Covid-19 Have a Lasting Impact on the Environment?” (BBC, March 2020)

McGrath M, “Polluting Gases Fall Rapidly as Coronavirus Spreads” (BBC News, March 2020)

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