Corona: only short-term benefits for climate
Due to the mild winter and the economic downturn, Germany’s CO2 emissions will fall by ‘at least 50 million tons’ this year compared to 2019. The corona crisis could cause that drop to reach 120 million tons, according to the German think tank Agora Energiewende. That’s a 40 to 45% reduction in German emissions compared to 1990, which means the country is meeting its targets.
The reduction in transport emissions and reduced energy demand from the industry will drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But Patrick Graichen, director of Agora, fears that CO2 emissions will rise sharply after the crisis. Especially if it is decided to put investments in renewable energy on hold.
CO2 level stabilizes
Aviation, road transport, and industry are at a low point in the corona crisis. According to calculations by the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air, China emitted up to 25% fewer greenhouse gases in February. This could reduce the country’s total emissions by more than 1% this year. Many coal-fired power stations are still at a standstill.
What happened in China in February is currently taking place in Europe and the US. Measurements of the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere in Hawaii show a slowdown in the increase of the CO2 level. “While it has been rising continuously for years, it may now stabilize. Unseen,” says Mathias Bienstman, policy coordinator at Bond Beter Leefmilieu in the newspaper ‘De Standaard’. But even with the corona crisis, Flanders will probably not achieve its objectives.
In the long term
Hans Bruyninckx, Director of the European Environment Agency, does not yet want to make any predictions about the longer-term effects on CO2 emissions. “We do not yet know how long this crisis will last. When we have the figures, we will make an analysis, just as we did after the financial crisis.”
The financial crisis is the best point of comparison at the moment. In 2008, global emissions of greenhouse gases continued to fall. When the economy picked up again, emissions suddenly rose again quickly. The incentives for the economy also boosted fossil fuels. In a year’s time, global emissions rose by 5%.
Bruyninckx: “A low-carbon society does not come about through a corona shock but through long-term investments. This crisis will also have an impact on public funds.” The European Commission has already said that it wants to stick to the Green Deal.
But the Visegrad countries (Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic) have never been big supporters of the Green Deal. They want to seize this opportunity to put it on hold. Czech Prime Minister, Andrej Babis, said last week that Europe is best off forgetting that plan. A lot of money from the Green Deal has to come from the European structural funds, which many want to use to keep the ‘normal’ economy going.
UN boss, António Guterres, even fears that the corona crisis will distract attention from the climate problem.
According to Fatih Birol, director of the International Energy Agency, the corona crisis gives us a ‘historic opportunity’ to accelerate the energy transition and green the economy. “A lot of money is now being made available. This is a huge opportunity that we must not miss. It’s not just about the size of the sum, it’s about which direction we send the money.”
In China, the production of solar panels seems to be a major victim of the corona crisis. Demand has already fallen by 16 percent and, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, 2020 could be the first year since 1980 in which the capacity of solar energy has not increased. Meanwhile, the oil price is also at a historically low level. According to Bienstman, that makes the introduction of a CO2 tax easier. “The consumer will now feel such a tax less quickly at the pump.”
Airlines for Europe, the largest airline association, has already asked for the planned CO2 reduction measures to be postponed. In the U.S., Donald Trump has agreed to 50 billion dollars of state support for airlines. Eight Democratic senators demand that that support be linked to initiatives to reduce CO2 emissions.