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The impact of the coronavirus on the climate

March 11, 2020 8:45 AM, Der AUDITOR
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FRANKFURT. The adverse impact of the Covid-19 epidemic is highlighted in the news every day. There is, however, one positive aspect to be considered.

As the world is on the verge of a pandemic reports constantly illustrate the rapid spread of the virus, its fatal impact and the consequences for the global economy. With thougher measures being introduced to contain the virus it is clear that the impact on daily lives and on the economy are set to become even worse. Nevertheless, there is one positive aspect being reported. There are less carbon dioxide emissions, which benefits the climate, albeit on a temporary basis.

China cuts CO2 emissions by 25%

With the spread of the coronavirus and the emergency measures in place economic growth has slowed down alongside human greenhouse gas emissions. China, which is largely responsible for CO2 emissions and global warming, has, for instance, cut emissions by as much as 25% as compared with the last few years. Many factories, also in the food industry, had to shut down over the last few weeks as the government introduced rigid measures the contain the spread of the virus. Reports stat that around CO2 emissions were cut by 200 million tonnes in February. Nitrogen levels also declined by 30%. The cuts to emissions are, however, short-lived. With factories starting to operate again carbon dioxide emissions are on the rise again.

The situation in Europe

More stringent measures have been introduced in Europe this week as EU members states are attempting to slowdown the spread of the virus. The whole of Italy, which is worst hit, is under complete lockdown. Staff shortages have forced the first factories to close. Delays are also an issue for the food industry. with health checks being enforced at the borders and truck drivers not being permitted to enter offices there are delays in transport, especially from Italy. Food companies in Italy are also looking in to alternative means of transport such as by ship or by train, which, however, take longer and are more expensive. Another problem the food processors in Europeare are confronted with is a lack of sanitary gloves and masks, which are mainly produced in China. This is causing additional delays and may drive up prices. Food companies thorughout Europe are careful to assure their customers that they have enforced strict hygiene measures to prevent the spread of the virus and that shipments are possible.

Jens Spahn, the German Minister of Health has recently confirmed that Europe is now "directly affected by factory closures". In view of the economic crisis in 2008, when CO2 emissions declined notably, it is, however, expected that any possible benefits to the climate will be short-lived. these will probably be rather entertaining. The problem is that "money makes the world go round" and it is feared that factories will step up production to compensate for losses.

Effective climate policy is called for

Martin Ittershagen, from the Federal Environment Agency in Germany, shares this view. To Mundus Agri he explains that "emissions can certainly be cut if production and travel decline, but it is not yet possible to make any precise estimates. Contradictive effects may also emerge if people avoid public transport and switch to their own cars instead. All this is, however, speculation as representattive data is not available". Far-reaching and long-term climate policies are required, as the restrictions prompted by coronavirus are unlikely to lead to sustained improvements. "Shutdowns due to disasters or epidemics have occurred before (i.e. after the eruption of the Icelandic volcano). However, this does not replace any well-structured climate policies or sustainable restructurings of economies towards climate friendliness. And economic crises show that slumps with low emissions were followed by ven stronger economic upturns and higher emissions. Consumption was thererfore onyl temporarily suspended and then stepped up again", as Ittershagen states.

However, it should also be noted that many employers have switched to home office because of the risk of infection. This may prompt some to continue to do so in future, which may help to save uncessary journeys and cut CO2 emissions. Tourists may also be encouraged to travel less far. Although far more is required for a sustained effect on the clime, these may be considered as small steps in the right direction.

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