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  • Virina Botros

How has one year of COVID-19 impacted climate change?

Now that is has been one year in the COVID-19 pandemic, let’s look back:

The pandemic has led to a drop of 10% of total worldwide CO2 worldwide emissions. NASA’s images clearly show the dramatic decrease in pollution over the region. As a result of COVID-19 shutdowns, CO2 emissions have dropped by approximately 7% in March and April. Coincidentally, 7% is the amount by which the U.N. says we’d need to cut carbon emissions every year for the next decade in order to keep in line with the Paris Agreement, which aims to keep global average temperatures from increasing more than 1.5°C over the pre-industrial era. This by no means lessens the cost of the outbreak: deaths, quarantine, small businesses and households reaching a financial breaking point. What the pandemic has highlighted is that we can create MASSIVE change for the climate crisis in a short period of time.


As much of an emergency the climate has become, it took a pandemic to realize the fragility of our global system. Despite the science, warnings, and facts stating that the potential collapse of our civilization can happen within 20 years, and how the global average temperature increase is expected to be anywhere between 1.5 degrees to 5 degrees celsius by 2100, an epidemic only caused us to real-time impacts with regards to pollution.


So, why isn’t the climate crisis being treated with the same urgency as the pandemic?

The easiest answer is that people feel that COVID-19 will directly affect them, but the climate crisis will only affect “other people”.



Left: A map by NASA shows the average concentration of nitrogen dioxide from March 2015 to March 2019. (Photo credit: NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio)

Right: A map by NASA shows the average concentration of nitrogen dioxide in March 2020 as people stay home to help stop the spread of COVID-19. (Photo credit: NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio)



What to expect for climate change in 2021:


A lot has changed in recent times concerning potential for climate change. With a new presidency and an ongoing global pandemic, there are new expectations of climate change to be fulfilled.


On the first day of his presidency, Biden signed an executive order that placed a temporary moratorium on all Coastal oil and gas leasing program activities in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, ordered that all agencies account for the benefits of reducing climate change, and launched a review of past rules and orders that had weakened fuel economy standards, appliance and building efficiency, national emission standards for hazardous air pollutants, and protections against methane emissions from oil and gas. To read more about this executive order, see this link: https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2021/01/20/executive-order-protecting-public-health-and-environment-and-restoring-science-to-tackle-climate-crisis/


Biden campaigned heavily on climate change plans to achieve 100% clean energy economy and net-zero emissions by no later than 2050. To signal the seriousness of his plans, Biden rejoined the Paris Climate Accord with an executive order, where the US can provide climate targets and concrete plans to reduce emissions from the power and energy sector. Under this scenario, the U.S. power sector could see $1.7 trillion in clean energy investments, drastically reducing air pollution and avoiding an estimated $1.2 trillion in cumulative health and environmental damages. This means that major investment decisions must start now, with levels of investments ramping up throughout the transition. Biden’s economic plan, although not perfect, is a big step towards improving the climate.


It is recognized that executive orders alone cannot create the level of certainty that businesses need in order to plan and invest in a net-zero future. The election of a few new Senators opened the door for advancing job-creating climate investments in electric vehicles and clean energy as part of a budget reconciliation package. It is still believed that increasing investor awareness and enterprises are increasingly aware of the benefits that net-zero transition could create.