Although it seems from an entirely different era, it was only last month when we covered the gathering of the world’s leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Unlike in other years, this year’s conference was dedicated mostly to sustainable development and climate change. Indeed, When reading these lines, it is hard to believe that only a few weeks ago, BlackRock CEO, Larry Fink, warned political and business leaders that the “climate crisis will reshape finance”—urging them to utilize 2020 to institute new green policies and increase the share of sustainable investments that would foster the much-needed change.  

Earlier this week, the European Union announced that it would postpone recently initiated climate law debates, as carbon-intensive industries from aviation to oil are laying-off workers and seeking emergency bailouts. Yet, although in a grim backdrop, as countries introduced travel restrictions, together with a global contraction in manufacturing and shipping of goods, there was a noticeable drop in pollution and greenhouse gas emissions across the world. 

Nitrogen Dioxide Emissions in Hubei. Courtesy of NASA and European Space Agency

In China, the world’s largest carbon emitter, experts estimate that emissions over the past month have been about 25% lower than normal. Pollution levels have similarly decreased in Italy, which has become the center of the coronavirus pandemic outside of China. These effects were not entirely unexpected, as industrial operations and air travel demands were reduced by 15 percent to 40 percent in some sectors, and coal consumption at power plants fell by 36 percent. Furthermore, in recent recorded global disasters, such as 9/11 or the 2008 global economic crisis, there was a similar sharp decline in carbon emissions. In the United States, a significant economic downturn would likely drive a further decrease in greenhouse gas emissions, as people consume fewer resources.

Despite these figures, there’s nothing to celebrate about the spread of the novel Coronavirus. As Gernot Wagner, a clinical associate professor at New York University’s Department of Environmental Studies, mentioned: “Emissions in China are down because the economy has stopped and people are dying, and because poor people are not able to get medicine and food. This is not an analogy for how we want to decrease emissions from climate change.” 

However, this pandemic might provide us with a few insights regarding the change in human behavior that would allow us to sustain these ‘bleak’ achievements. The focus is on health and supply chains right now. But the process of challenging assumptions and fundamentally altering behavior — illustrated by remote work, for example — can be seized on by climate action advocates once the worst of this health crisis is over.

Recent events might also make governments more aware of the possible devastating ramifications that other global threats, like climate change, may hold. This could possibly prove imperative to develop protective measures. It is vital that when we restart our economies, we will be conscious of the need to continue to tackle climate-related issues,  further reducing emissions and pollution.

For more from Politico, click here

For more from NBC News, click here.

For more from Scientific American, click here.  

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