How COVID-19 impacts climate change

Airborne Nitrogen Dioxide Plummets Over China
Image from NASA

Tyler Chalfant | March 13th, 2020

As the 2019 novel coronavirus, now considered a pandemic by the World Health Organization, has impacted several businesses, including air travel, emissions and air pollution have fallen significantly around the globe. Satellite images of China show how air pollution has fallen drastically due to a fall in economic activity as the country responds to the outbreak. According to an analysis from the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air, China’s carbon emissions have been reduced by 25%. 

However, environmental watchdog and activist groups have warned that these effects are temporary, and may even be harmful in the long run, as an economic slowdown replaces policy and clean energy investment as the means of reducing emissions. Zeke Hausfather, the director of climate and energy at the Breakthrough Institute, told Wired that “the only real times we’ve seen large emission reductions globally in the past few decades is during major recessions. But even then, the effects are often smaller than you think.” In 2008, for instance, emissions fell globally by 3%, but returned to normal and continued to grow after a few years.

As COVID-19 stalls infrastructure projects, that will likely include large clean energy projects. On Thursday, analysts from Bloomberg New Energy Finance lowered forecasts for new solar energy projects this year by 8%, predicting that electric car sales will likely fall as well.

Another impact of the outbreak is a dramatic fall in oil prices, which can slow electric car sales and discourage people from looking for clean energy alternatives. However, travel bans and fears of the virus mean that the rise in travel that usually accompanies a drop in oil prices isn’t likely to happen. Furthermore, the sale of electric cars is being driven by regulations in places like Europe, China, and California, as well as falling battery prices, which may also mean that cheaper oil won’t have as significant an impact this time.

The social, economic, and health impacts of COVID-19 are continuing to develop on a daily basis. Be sure to follow the latest information from the CDC here.

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