Coronavirus is affecting everything. Around the world, airports, roads and cities have closed down and their emissions are falling. In New York emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide are down 5-10%. In China emissions were down by about 25% at the start of the year and the amount of coal used in the county’s power industries has fallen off a cliff. In Europe satellite images over Northern Italy, show emissions of nitrogen dioxide fading away. Nitrogen dioxide is a gas that can cause respiratory disease and acid rain.

The big question is whether the dips that we are seeing now actually have a long term affect on the environment and climate change.

Emissions are falling due to the fact that governments have introduced lockdown, so no-one is travelling anywhere near as much as people used to. Transport makes up nearly a quarter of carbon emissions and there are fewer planes in the sky. This matters because hour for hour flying is the fastest way to heat the climate so all the flights that are being reduced are saving a lot of carbon. Another key reason that emissions have dropped, is due to industry which makes up nearly a fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions. Many factories and businesses have closed their doors and their carbon emissions have fallen with them. It is said that more than 10% of total oil consumption globally has been wiped out and it has meant that many cities are measuring the best air quality that they have ever seen. That has also had a huge impacts on the economy and has meant many people have lost their jobs. So it is really not the way that anyone wanted to lower carbon emissions.

At the moment researchers think that once the recovery from the pandemic is taken,  it might dip at around 0.3% in our carbon emissions. So even though there is this dip just now in emissions, when life goes back to normal so may emissions. People will go on long distance holidays again and coal fired power stations will fire up again. It isn’t the first time we have seen a temporary dip in recent history. In 2008, the global financial crisis also cause a significant temporary drop in emissions. But then lots of countries started to pump out more carbon emissions again as they tried to rally their economies, like in China. The Chinese government started the largest and most polluting economic stimulus programme in history, using billions of tonnes of steel and cement to build causing a spike in China’s air pollution levels and in China’s carbon dioxide emissions. That could mean that a crisis like this can increase emissions in years to come. There is another way that the pandemic could be affecting the climate negatively, one is cancelling big climate conferences, the UNs Cop 26 conference has been postponed and climate scientists are worried that they can’t physically get out and about to get the data they need to their work.

However, there is some optimism. It could be a big opportunity to reduce emissions in the longer term. For the majority of the population there is no reason to go back to commuting an office every day. The pandemic makes people think about how and where to get food. The threat of lockdown emptied some supermarket shelves. This promotes a waste not want not mentality, helping to reduce the one third of the worlds food that usually gets wasted.

One thing that is being noticed is the adaptability in the community. People are willing to make big changes and sacrifices when it is necessary to protect public health. It shows hope and potential the everyone has the capacity to tackle the climate crisis.