The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have been vast-reaching, affecting billions of individuals’ daily lives and interactions with our communities. One major area being heavily impacted: greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. With most of the world performing some form of social
distancing, industrial productivity and commuting has declined immensely, resulting in fewer greenhouse gas emissions, a leading contributor to global climate change.
Climate change and COVID-19 are global problems with dire consequences, both on human health and economic stability. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that the effects of climate change may result in the death of 250,000 people annually between the years 2030 to 2050, for reasons including malnutrition, heat stress and more. If unchecked, global temperatures will rise by 4.5˚C and potentially impact nearly two dozen different sectors of the economy, and specifically, from a U.S. perspective, cost the country $520 billion* each year according to the National Bureau of
Both COVID-19 and climate change will require action to be taken by individuals in their daily lives, and perhaps more importantly, leadership by governments, corporations, and organizations worldwide to combat and minimize the effects.
THE IMPACT ON GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS: NOW AND LATER.
According to China's Ministry of Ecology and Environment, January and March 2020 showed an 84.5 percent increase in days with good air quality across 337 cities. Overall, a 5.5- 5.7 percent fall in carbon dioxide levels globally has been identified due to the pandemic by leading climate experts, including the Center for International Climate Research.
The U.S. has witnessed grid-wide declines in electricity usage, with some markets seeing a seven percent decrease compared to 2019. While residential use has increased, commercial and industrial demand has contracted, resulting in energy demand to be broadly down for most of 2020 to date. Since roughly 63 percent of electricity in the U.S. is generated from fossil fuels, this decline correlates to a drop in greenhouse gas emissions.
Overall, this is the first fall in global carbon emissions since 2008, and the largest amount since World War II. However, experts warn that without structural change, the emission declines caused by COVID-19 could be short-lived and have little impact on the concentrations of carbon that have accumulated in the atmosphere over decades.
For commercial buildings, data from Aquicore real-time energy meters across the Cushman & Wakefield U.S. portfolio tell a similar story. As office buildings have been sparsely populated, our building engineers have been provided guidance to bring buildings down to idle as much as possible and aggressively focus on limiting energy use. This has resulted in a nearly 24 percent decline nationally in energy use by our managed properties over the last month.
While in the short term, carbon emissions have declined as cars stay parked and industries remain offline, eventually an increasing amount will resume. With that, history tells us carbon emissions will pick up again. Emissions dropped during both the 1970s oil crisis and the 2008 financial crisis, but emissions bounced back as economies recovered. In fact, as China has worked to restart their economy over the past month, air pollution levels and carbon emissions all seem to be bouncing back to pre-COVID-19 levels, according to the Finland-based non-profit, Centre for Research on Energy and Clean. Additionally, the lower pricing of fossil fuels, partly due to COVID-19, can hurt long-time climate efforts, as cheaper energy often leads consumers to use it less efficiently.
Furthermore, financing opportunities for solar, wind and electric grid projects are potentially reduced by financial pressures caused by the pandemic.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported that limiting global warming to 1.5°C would require "rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.” This includes the immensely difficult goal of cutting global human-caused CO2 emissions 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030. However, COVID-19 has shown how we can work together globally to mitigate an immediate threat. While more difficult to direct this same determination and cooperation to a longer-term threat, it is a must as the potential consequences are not worth the risk of inaction.
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