When the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns began, it didn't take long for Mother Nature to prove just how much she needed the break. All over the world, local wildlife began to appear in places like never before (in India, thousands of flamingos painted a city pink thanks to people being inside). Now a new report published by the journal Nature Climate Change, has proven just how significant an impact the global health crisis has had.
The amount of carbon dioxide humans are responsible for generating worldwide each day fell by 17 percent, compared to the daily average for 2019. The decrease is compared to the same time last year and resulted in a level of emissions not seen since 2006.
“This is a really big fall, but at the same time, 83 perfect of global emissions are left, which shows how difficult it is to reduce emissions with changes in behaviour,” said Corinne Le Quéré, a professor of climate change at the University of East Anglia, and lead author of the study. “And it is not desirable – this is not the way to tackle climate change.”
“Just behavioural change is not enough,” she added. “We need structural changes [to the economy and industry]. But if we take this opportunity to put structural changes in place, we have now seen what it is possible to achieve.”
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Most decreases in CO2 came from manufacturing, power generation, transportation and shipping - excluding aviation. The aviation industry has been particularly hard hit by the pandemic, with its carbon footprint shrinking by 60 percent. However, the report notes it has a far smaller impact on the climate as a whole compared to other industries.
Scientists and environmentalists warn that this dramatic fall due to the quarantine guidelines isn't enough to stop climate change. Without more systemic and long-lasting changes to how society operates, pollution could come back with a vengeance once the pandemic subsides.
“Social responses alone, as shown here, would not drive the deep and sustained reductions needed,” the study reads, noting that any benefits the environment is experiencing because of the COVID-19 crisis are probably temporary.
“The real lesson of this pandemic is that we must globally shift our energy production away from fossil fuels as quickly as possible if we are to ensure sustained year-on-year cuts to our global emissions,” Richard Betts, the head of climate impacts research at the Met Office Hadley Centre said, per The Guardian. “The good news is that both of these will help to maintain the clean air and clear skies we have all rediscovered during lockdown, saving many lives.”