The environmental business facing the pandemic
From an environmental point of view, the pandemic indirectly caused a reduction in GHG emissions.
Published: February 1, 2022
At the end of the year 2019 I was spending Christmas with my family and I remember commenting that a “strange flu” was emerging in the city of Wuhan. In a few months this “strange flu” had spread all over the world and was called Covid-19. I don’t think it’s necessary to give great details about the disease itself since you who are reading this article know as well as I do the dangers of this disease. However, I think it is always important to mention, at a time when we are returning to “normal” that, to date, according to official data, Covid-19 has affected around 212 million people and caused the death of 4 .4 million (the numbers are thought to be much higher).
Despite everything, as a Portuguese saying goes, “there are evils that come for good” which means that a bad event can also bring favourable consequences. It may seem like a “cold phrase” to say at a time when almost 18 months after the outbreak of the pandemic, millions of people have already died and been affected, but from an environmental point of view, the pandemic indirectly caused a reduction in GHG emissions.
According to the International Energy Agency, In the year 2020 we emitted 5.8% less GHG when compared to the values of 2019 which, to give you an idea, was the biggest drop in emissions since the Second World War. This drop was essentially due to the lockdown that occurred in virtually all countries, thus leading to a decrease in fossil fuel burning and, if you own a car, you also contributed to this decrease because during the lockdown period in your country you most likely decreased the number of trips you made with your car.
The reduction in emissions was more accentuated in the first half of the year because that was when the “most aggressive” lockdowns occurred, with almost everyone stopping and, in the second half of the year, with the return of activities, emissions began to increase with emissions the month of December 2020 were higher than the emissions of December 2019.
The reduction of GHG emissions did not occur homogeneously in all countries, the reduction was less accentuated in emerging economies than in emerging countries as they recovered their activities more quickly. For example, according to data from the International Energy Agency, the European Union and the United States of America reduced their emissions by about 10% while India reduced by 7% and China a booming economy despite the pandemic presented an increase in emissions of almost 1% when compared to the year 2019.
UNEP estimates that it will be necessary to reduce GHG emissions by 7.6% annually over the next decade to comply with the Paris Agreement, which shows the need for new and more ambitious policies than the current ones because even with this situation of pandemic, with economies stopping for a few months (which will certainly not happen again) “only” emissions were reduced by 5.8%, which shows how worrying and urgent our situation can be regarding the amount of GHG that we send into the atmosphere.
However, in my opinion, this reduction was significant because despite being lower than what many scientists predicted and we were still far from the figures referred to by UNEP, the reduction of GHG emissions that occurred in 2020 was still a significant reduction. emissions were reduced as it has not been seen for a long time, but even more important because it can be said that this whole pandemic and the reduction of GHG emissions may have unwittingly served as a kind of “marketing strategy” because the truth is that later from the appearance of the virus, television channels and the news began to talk much more intensely about the issue of climate change and the importance of reducing greenhouse gases.
It may have been a mere coincidence (or not) but the truth is that since the pandemic appeared the issue of climate change has been increasingly addressed, which is extremely important as currently this will be the biggest threat to human race, even more so than Covid-19 itself. This increase in interest has been witnessed in several ways:
- On social networks and in the media itself, where more and more actions to protect the environment are visible and publicized and where the increase in people’s adherence is notorious.
- In the exponential increase in the number of companies that want to reduce and offset their greenhouse gas emissions. This increase can be evidenced by the sudden increase in demand for carbon credits.
- The emergence of more measures, more ambitious targets and increased regulation by governments. As is the example of the new European Climate Law and the amendment to the Paris agreement (the target was raised from 40% to 55% in 2030).
For the good of the planet and life on Earth, it is extremely important that this interest continues and that it becomes more accentuated and that it is not just a momentary matter, as we are still far from the goals defined in the Paris Agreement, and these are the goals that allow for survival of humanity without having to face extreme weather phenomena.
However, despite what I said earlier, it is important to emphasize that this reduction in GHG emissions was only due to the pandemic situation and that in a “normal” scenario it would not have occurred! Care must be taken when companies and governments start to publish their 2020 sustainability reports, they must pay attention to the implications of the pandemic and be careful in measuring their carbon footprint. For example, many consultancies spent the year with employees working remotely and with this drastically reduced their electricity consumption (and of course their carbon footprint) however, workers continued to consume electricity in their homes and sometimes with worse energy efficiency to be able to work and, as emission related to remote work is not mandatory to be included in the calculations, it could make companies’ carbon footprints misleading. Greater attention is needed so that these companies do not take advantage of the pandemic to show that they are committed to reducing their footprint when in fact the reduction was a consequence of the pandemic and not the company’s commitment.
The pandemic somehow gave us two paths related to GHG emissions:
- Use the year 2020 as a turning point in what is Our goal, to reduce our CO2e emissions and thus see 2020 as the year in which we start most actively in this upcoming struggle.
- Be just a year in which there was an unlikely event that had as one of the consequences the reduction of GHG emissions. And the truth is that for this not to happen, governments will have a very important role. “If governments don’t move quickly with the right energy policies, this could put at risk the world’s historic opportunity to make 2019 the definitive peak in global emissions.” – Fatih Birol (IEA)
To follow the first path, the path that we desperately need to follow, will require a great commitment from governments, companies and individuals. The first step has been taken, we have already started to reduce it and the message has already been widely disseminated, now it is time to act!
However, current news is not the best as forecasts point to a significant increase in emissions thus accompanying the rapid economic recovery. So, if nothing is done, despite the reduction and all the media given to this theme, emissions are returning to the pre-Covid19 time and could even pass the global peak that occurred in 2019.
The dice are rolled, now we need to know how to play.
By Marco Fernandes, Emissions Calculation at Reflora Initiative.