Covid-19 and Climate Change: What Can We Expect After the Pandemic?

Updated: Mar 16


Air-polluting roads abandoned due to lockdowns

By Adam Walter


The year 2020 is one that has seen substantial changes to ways in which we lead our lives due to coronavirus and this has ultimately affected the climate, as well as our relationship with it. Have these changes been positive and, arguably more importantly, will they have an element of permanence that can be built upon following the hopefully successful introduction of vaccines?


When coronavirus first took hold earlier this year it led to a mass reduction in transport by air, road and railways globally. This has seen a significant reduction in air pollution and greenhouses gas emissions across the globe. This can be seen in the photos from the empty streets in areas of China, for example, from which the smog that had previously descended had been expelled to be replaced by clear, clean skies (see image one). Similar instances can be seen in parts of India and indicate that a clear effect of the pandemic has been a lessening of air pollution and decreasing emissions. The BBC recently reported that the virus has driven a record emissions drop of 7% globally, with the UK’s dropping by 13%. However, there is a fear that, due to the brutally forced nature of these reductions through worldwide lockdowns, post-pandemic stimulus will focus on promoting economic growth regardless of its environmental impact. Professor Glen Peters thinks the climate ‘could go on the back burner’. Evidently, climate change has not ceased, but it would be fair to say that our relationship with the environment has been altered as a result of current global circumstances.


Image one:

Credit: NASA Earth Observatory

The pandemic may have seen a lessening of emissions and thus less air pollution. Whilst this has shown large impacts can be achieved in a short time, it has not fixed the problem. For example, the destruction of ice sheets in the artic sea continues to be a growing issue not only for humanity but for the nature that inhabits these regions. Additionally, average temperatures continue to rise in areas like the UK, where data indicates that England is now thirty times more likely to experience a heatwave than it was at the beginning of the century. Furthermore, China’s initial fall in emissions of an estimated 18% is already beginning to rebound as it restarts its factories. Experts have said that without strong government support for clean energy moving forward, the pandemic won’t reverse the continual rise of global carbon emissions. Almost a year of different lockdowns has only made a small dent, even if it is the biggest we’ve seen in years, we need a long-term lifestyle change and not a quick fix. It’s time to start thinking about the future.


With the first Coronavirus vaccines having been given out in the UK this leads to the question, what will happen to climate change after the pandemic? We know that the reduction in travel, hospitality and retail sectors has decreased emissions but we also know that we cannot simply ‘stop’ these sectors. So, how do we regain economic health whilst also considering the planet? We need to ensure that, with the hit to the economy, the government does not take money away from green initiatives, and continues to invest more in grants and schemes to help people move towards greener lifestyles through sustainable heating, electric cars and renewable energy. Yet, as many of us have been feeling, we sadly cannot yet rely on our government to lead us towards a green future. Despite having the information from leading climate-change scientists we have seen little difference to our carbon-emitting way of life. We urge you to do what you can to make these changes yourself. When you’re buying new clothes, consider how much you need them. If you’re renovating your home, consider installing a heat pump. If you’re buying a new car, consider an electric option.

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