The measures China has taken to curb the spread of the coronavirus have caused greenhouse gas emissions to plummet in the country, according to Carbon Brief.
Efforts to contain the outbreak, which has killed more than 2,200 people and infected nearly 80,000 others, have included travel restrictions and factory shutdowns, and there has been tepid consumer demand for products.
Carbon emissions have fallen by an estimated 25% since the outbreak began, nitrous oxide emissions have fallen by 36%, coal use is at a 4-year low, and flights are down 70% throughout the country.
Emissions generally drop in China during the Chinese New Year, when factories close so employees can visit family, but emissions have remained low in the weeks since the holiday, as the coronavirus became global news.
The decline shows how modern economies tend to only slow their output — and their accompanying environmental impact — amid significant disruptions that make it impossible to maintain the status quo. It also highlights how resistant countries have been to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions.
Countries have known for decades that greenhouse gas emissions cause global warming that leads to climate change and have so far failed to take the threat seriously by overhauling global energy production.
China is the leading emitter of greenhouse gas emissions in the world, having surpassed the United States in 2005.
The economic disruptions caused by the coronavirus could allow the Chinese government to reflect on the structure of its economy and make lasting adjustments to become more sustainable.
The United Nations’ Global Goal 13 calls on countries to retire fossil fuel plants and invest in renewable sources of energy. While China installs wind turbines and solar panels faster than any other country, it also uses record amounts of coal.
So while emissions are temporarily subdued, they’ll most likely surge in the months ahead.
Carbon Brief notes that the Chinese government is expected to create a stimulus plan to boost the economy once the virus wanes, which could cause emissions to quickly return to — or even surpass — normal levels.
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