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What is the environmental impact of the economic stimulus for the COVID-19 / Coronavirus pandemic?
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There is a recent paper published in Nature titled "Impacts of COVID-19 and fiscal stimuli on global emissions and the Paris Agreement", which evaluated the potential environmental impact of 27 separate scenarios based on past and future lockdown severity and duration as well as the impact of fiscal stimuli. 

The study evaluated impact on emissions of 79 countries which accounted for 90% of global emissions in 2018. Results suggests that, under what was deemed the most likely scenario, global emissions will decrease by 4.5% over a 5 year period (2020-2024), compared to a baseline scenario (where the Coronavirus pandemic never took place). However, the range across all scenarios for the same period is a reduction of between 3.9% and 5.6%.

 

Reference:

Shan, Y., Ou, J., Wang, D., Zeng, Z., Zhang, S., Guan, D., Hubacek, K., 2020. Impacts of COVID-19 and fiscal stimuli on global emissions and the Paris Agreement. Nature Climate Change.. doi:10.1038/s41558-020-00977-5

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The scale of the environmental impact of the economic stimulus for the COVID-19 pandemic depends on how governments decide to re-stimulate their economies once the pandemic eases. There is an opportunity to invest the stimulus money in structural changes leading to reduced emissions, such as further development of clean technologies. However, some argue that if the pandemic goes on a long time, any stimulus would more likely focus on promoting any economic growth regardless of the impact on the environment.

European Union leaders have promised to make their emergency measures align with their Green Deal programme. But in reality, it is expected that the worldwide environmental impact will be similar to that of past recessions as summarised in “How Do the Environmental Impacts of COVID-19 Compare with Past Recessions?” (OneSharedEarth, April 2020).

China’s energy demand and emissions were already returning to normal by end of March 2020. The Chinese government’s stimulus could outweigh any short-term reductions in energy and emissions during the lock down, including its extension of deadlines for companies to meet environmental standards to help the resumption of production disrupted by the epidemic. In the EU, the farmers’ association Copa-Cogeca called for a further postponement of the “farm to fork” strategy, which is aimed at making agriculture less polluting - the call is backed by the EPP bloc, the largest group in the European parliament. Under the cover of the crisis, the White House has rolled back fuel-economy standards for the car industry and the Environmental Protection Agency has stopped enforcing environmental laws. Brazil cut back on efforts to fight environmental crimes during the outbreak.

Specific environmental impacts of the economic stimulus for the COVID-19 pandemic are summarised here

 

References

Carrington D, “Polluter Bailouts and Lobbying during Covid-19 Pandemic” (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)

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

Peters G, “How Changes Brought on by Coronavirus Could Help Tackle Climate Change” (The Conversation, March 2020)

Spring J, “Exclusive: Brazil Scales Back Environmental Enforcement amid Coronavirus” (Reuters, March 2020)

Watts J, “Climate Crisis: In Coronavirus Lockdown, Nature Bounces Back – but for How Long?” (The Guardian, April 2020)

Westervelt A and Gertz E, “The Climate Rules Being Rolled Back During the COVID-19 Pandemic” (Drilled News, April 2020)

Wilkinson D and Chávez LT, “How Covid-19 Could Impact the Climate Crisis” (Human Rights Watch, April 2020)

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