What effect will Covid-19 have on global warming in the long-term?

Even in the relatively short period of time that the world has been in lockdown – although it sometimes feels like years – the fall in energy use and emissions has had a profound impact on the environment. Clear canals in Venice was one thing but a see-through sea on Blackpool’s coast, who’d have thought we’d ever see the day!

Energy demand has plummeted during the Covid-19 pandemic which is obviously a sign that the economy is suffering a major slowdown, and as a result global carbon dioxide emissions are anticipated to be eight percent lower this year compared to 2019. It is a silver lining to what is otherwise a metaphorical, if not meteorological, dark cloud.

But whilst the environmental changes mentioned are striking, carbon dioxide lingers around the atmosphere for a long time, making snapshot judgements about the long-term impact of this period hard to quantify, although atmospheric expert, Keith Shine, forecasts a mere 0.0025°C reduction in global warming in about two decades’ time.

Rebound effect

An article that recently appeared in Foreign Policy in Focus points out that once life gets back to any kind of ‘normal’, emissions will rise, and so too will the levels of pollution that fill the skies.

In fact, the rebound could be even worse.

As the article points out, in the initial aftermath of the global financial crisis of 2008, global CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion and cement production decreased by 1.4 percent, only to rise by 5.9 percent in 2010.

And the crisis this time could have a longer-term impact on the environment, derailing worldwide efforts to bring about climate change.

Stalled progress

While the need for climate change action has never been more pressing, Covid-19 has prevented world leaders from getting together to tackle the issue.

Due to the pandemic, the UN’S annual climate summit has already been put back from November to an, as yet, unspecified date in 2021.

Looking at the aviation industry specifically, one of the biggest contributors to global emissions (estimated to be 2 per cent), under-pressure airline companies are pressing regulators to delay emissions-cutting policies.

This year was supposed to be a pivotal one for progress in tackling climate change, however Covid-19 is doing its level best to prevent lift-off.