What has COVID-19 taught us so far about reducing carbon emissions?

3rd April 2020
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Pollution and greenhouse gas emissions have fallen across continents as countries try to contain the spread of the new coronavirus. In China, emissions fell 25% at the start of the year as people were instructed to stay at home, factories closed and coal use fell by 40% at China’s six largest power plants since the last quarter of 2019. In Europe, satellite images show nitrogen dioxide (NO2) emissions fading away over northern Italy and more recently a similar story is playing out in Spain and the UK .

Nitrogen dioxide emissions Europe

So far, good news, but what can the data and research so far tell us about reducing carbon emissions in the long term?

We need to be in it for the long haul

Transport makes up 23% of global carbon emissions – driving and aviation are key contributors to emissions from transport, contributing 72% and 11% of the transport sector’s greenhouse gas emissions respectively whilst combined emissions from industrial processes, manufacturing and construction add another 18.4% of global anthropogenic emissions. 

Through the COVID-19 pandemic, these emissions have fallen in the short term in countries where public health measures, such as keeping people in their homes, have cut unnecessary travel. However, when people return to travel as normal this will rise again. Similarly, the financial crash of 2008-09 led to an overall dip in emissions of 1.3%, but this quickly rebounded by 2010 as the economy recovered, leading to an all-time high.

Whilst we are unlikely to nip to the office twice to make up for lost commuter miles when normality resumes, as the world’s daily life and economy recovers, we will see numbers go back to their usual highs. This short term dip has shown us that change can occur rapidly, but unfortunately just as efforts to lower it are impactive, so the return to normal may undo our good work. 

Which leads us on to… 

Collective action is required to tackle global climate change

Scientists warn that the impacts of COVID-19 will rise sharply over time, threatening the lives of vast numbers of people, particularly those most vulnerable. They warn that climate change, too, will severely harm many over time, albeit not with the same rapidity. If governments and companies can take extreme actions to cancel sports seasons, shut down workplaces, and restrict movement, could they similarly take drastic steps to change how we produce and consume energy?

Like COVID-19, climate change is the ultimate collective action problem. Because carbon dioxide impacts are global, and every ton of CO2 contributes equally to climate change, if all nations looked only at the impact of a ton of CO2 on their own nations, the collective response would be vastly inadequate to address the true damage from climate change. That it takes a pandemic-induced economic standstill to actually bring emissions down should be a sobering reminder of just how hard addressing climate change will be. It isn’t just going to take one country, one bill or one new local initiative – it needs to be a collective and collaborative effort, worldwide. 

It’s time to get involved

We know that we all need to work together, and the government here in the UK is introducing measures to increase our steps to reducing carbon emissions. Most recently, the creation of Clean Air Zones in major UK cities and beyond is part of the government’s broader Air Quality Plan, which aims to improve air quality and address sources of pollution and is something that by working at a regional level, is hoped that local authorities and businesses can take the most effective steps locally to contribute to improved air quality at a national level.

Clean Air Zone Sign

Here at Mina, we think a good place to start is through partnerships with like minded businesses, a lot of hard work and a little lateral thinking. We want to make your switch to electric and greener living as easy as possible. 

For EV owners, this means making home chargers affordable and energy tariffs easy to understand. Maybe even making it free to charge your EV at home during certain hours or making it free charge on the road. For fleet operators, it means making it simple to pay back employees for the energy they’ve used when charging at home and taking the headache out of installing chargers in employees homes.

Right now, we’re not travelling unnecessarily, slowing down our consumption and reducing our output by shopping locally, but when we start getting back to normal, what steps will you take to keep doing your bit? Maybe your next car will be an EV or hybrid? Will you chat to your fleet manager about introducing an EV company car policy? 

If that sounds interesting and you’d like to work with us, get in touch. Let’s make something happen