The coronavirus pandemic has proved that countries need to start moving with urgency to combat climate change by flattening the emission trajectory
Over the last four months, the world has transformed due to a virus that was unknown to us until December 2019.
The global economy has eventually slowed as thousands of people have died and millions have fallen sick due to Covid-19. Those who did not fall ill, have had to change their entire lifestyle to safeguard against the virus.
Something else is afoot as well. The air in many parts of the world including Dhaka has become strikingly clean. In many cities, fog of pollution has lifted and the Global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have fallen.
For many years, environmentalist, climate activists and academics have been advocating the "degrowth" or slowing down strategy to mitigate GHG emissions, in a bid to address the human-induced climate change and leave a planet suitable for the next generations.
As the Earth has limit on its carrying capacity, it's imperative to flatten the growth of the sectors, that contribute significantly to climate change. For instance, the fossil fuel industry.
International negotiations, under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), was ratified with the intention to ensure a transition in the countries through decoupling of emissions from growth. However, the efforts of different countries so far, have been minimal.
Now, what we are observing is a complete natural degrowth phenomenon, attributed to the novel coronavirus.
According to scientists, the greenhouse gas emission in China fell by a quarter during the first two weeks of February 2020.
GHG emissions of other countries have also gone down considerably as a result of isolation, social distancing and shutdown of activities. While this natural economic slowdown is providing myriad benefits to the climate, the sustainable degrowth is very different to what is happening around the world.
The economic activities will pick up and simultaneously the greenhouse gas emissions will also increase in the coming months, but the present unintended degrowth phenomenon, certainly, has some lessons for us.
First of all, the lesson is to act early. As we look at the strategies adopted by of different countries to contain coronavirus pandemic, we see that the countries that reacted promptly have been able to minimise the damages.
On the other hand, countries, for example, Italy and others, who have waited too long to react, are paying the very high cost. The coronavirus pandemic, therefore, shows the importance of early actions to fight catastrophic consequences.
Scientists, activists and negotiators have been long urging all the countries, especially the developed ones, who are the major polluters, to take early actions to contain global mean temperature rise well below 1.5 degree C to avoid the cost of no or little action.
Coronavirus has eventually forced us to change our behaviour with regard to our travels, consumption, our lifestyle and the like.
As air travel and other modes of transports are ratcheted back globally, demands for fossil fuel have fallen dramatically, leading to unexpected emission reduction.
Officegoers are, to some extent, trying to manage their emergency tasks through web-supports, such as, skype, email and Microsoft Teams etc. People, who used to spend their evenings in restaurants, are now, in fact, staying at home.
We havefurther upended our daily lives in dramatic ways only for the benefit of others. For instance, people are in self-isolation or maintaining social distancing to slow the spread of the virus, in a bid to flatten the curve, to avoid others' sufferings.
In summary, behaviour changes a system and helps avoid the breakdown of a system. Same goes with climate change – mindful behaviour might help save the planet from catastrophic consequences of climate change.
The other important lesson is that, the countries, when are necessarily motivated, can undertake measures that are mutually beneficial. For example, the ban on international travels.
Likewise, for climate change, it is up to the global communities, particularly the major polluters, to put aside their national interests and take meaningful GHG mitigation actions.
Last but not the least, we need to take warnings seriously. More than one journal articles predicted the likelihood of outbreak of coronavirus from China in between 2009 and 2019.
On the other hand, when the Chinese doctor raised his concern over probable outbreak of coronavirus in 2019, it did not go down well.
Timely reaction, in that regard, could have altered the situation that we are facing now. As far as the impacts of climate change are concerned, we, therefore, need to consider evidence-based-warnings seriously.
For several decades, there have been calls to cut GHG emissions to be within tolerable limit of the earth. Despite the availability of ample facts and justifications, backed by science, we have rather emitted more GHGs since 1990s.
Now the hard lessons that we have learned from the coronavirus pandemic, we need to start moving with urgency to combat climate change by flattening the emission trajectory. To avoid a natural "degrowth or slowing down of economic activities" in future due to severe climatic events, efforts to advance sustainable energy and decouple economic activities make sense.
The author is a Senior Advisor in an International Development Agency. He has more than a decade of experience in sustainable energy and climate change. He is a former International Climate Protection Fellow at Ecologic Institute, Berlin, supported by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, Germany.