Could the COVID-19 Pandemic leave positive lessons for the environmental agenda?

While the world’s economic activity suffers from the pandemic caused by the coronavirus, a decrease in the emission of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere is also noticeable. Initial data show that, in China alone, the reduction was 25% as of March. A study by the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) shows that this moment can serve as a lesson to face global warming.

The analysis, carried out by the African Climate Policy Centre, of UNECA, sees the situation with caution. According to the document, the reduction in emissions may be only momentary and will grow alongside the global economy after the pandemic. The current changes, then, would have little effect in the long run.

“This temporary relief in emissions does not change the trajectory of the planet based on our current economic production and consumption models. Carbon dioxide already accumulated in the atmosphere will continue to affect the climate system for decades to come. However, radical reductions of emissions increase the possibility of ensuring that such interference is reversible,” says the study.

The situation of African countries

A concern shared by representatives of the environmental agenda around the world is that the pandemic has left the cause in the background. The need to resume economic activity after the coronavirus can cause emissions to grow substantially again.

UNECA, however, sees that there are positive examples for dealing with global warming. The organization cites the quick actions taken by governments, economic support packages, and the importance that has been given to scientific studies.

“The global response to tackling climate change and building more resilient economies and societies will depend very much on how countries also take swift and transformative actions towards closing the financing gap to address climate change,” explains the study.

The Institution, however, recalls that the contributions to climate action of the majority of the continent depend substantially on the availability of climate finance, and African countries already have less fiscal space to be able to inject stimulus into their economies.

“Strategies [from developed countries], including debt relief for African countries as well as innovations in mobilizing private sector finance to address climate change become even more urgent.  Since debt relief does not require ‘new money’, it is perhaps an option that can be implemented more quickly,” suggests.

The positive lessons

UNECA concludes the analysis by stressing the need to develop long-term, post-pandemic strategies that are focused on resilience and low carbon emissions.

“With the inevitable rise in unemployment that the economic impacts of Covid-19 will result in, an African economic rebound based on resilience and powered by the continent’s abundant clean energy resources will create more jobs, enhance trade and contribute to global climate action, while addressing the continent’s chronic energy access deficit,” concludes the study.