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Climate change and Covid 19 – making the connection

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Blog picture: Climate change and Covid 19 – making the connection
Will flights remain empty as the lockdown eases? (Piqsels open use copyright)

Written by Dr Alice Hague

Over the past few months, as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, governments around the world have implemented massive changes to our everyday behaviours, many of which are exactly the types of societal behaviour changes that climate activists have been calling for to reduce carbon emissions. In 2019 for example, Swedish activists started encouraging people to take a pledge to be ‘flygfritt’ (flight-free), to try and reduce demand for flights, thereby reducing emissions from the aviation sector. While only 2% of global emissions come from aviation, this figure is on an upward trend, and reducing demand for flights is seen as one way to reduce emissions. As a result of restrictions introduced in the context of the pandemic, and a consequent massive reduction in demand, globally, commercial flight traffic has reduced by more than 80% compared to 2019 throughout the spring and early summer of 2020.

Stay-at-home orders have also reduced road transport, with UK Government figures showing that transport by road use in April 2020 was often only about 35-40% of equivalent days in April 2019. Road transport is another key sector for reducing emissions, with transport emissions currently contributing about 33% of the UK’s total CO2 emissions, with road transport making up the large majority of that figure.

Research has shown that global emissions dropped by only 17% by early April compared to 2019 as a result of the wide-ranging restrictions introduced by governments around the world, with an expectation that overall results for 2020 might be -4 to -7% on 2019 figures overall – substantial in some ways, but depending on how governments seek to stimulate recovery in their economies, maybe not as hopeful as initially thought, given the global and national emissions reductions targets necessary to reduce the impacts of climate change.

Thinking of actions needed to try and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as well as transport-related changes already mentioned, we’ve also been finding other ways of operating that could be considered ‘climate positive’. With an encouragement to go shopping for essentials only, many people have taken up menu-planning and sought to reduce food waste, for example, or found themselves sourcing more locally-produced food. Cycling has increased in popularity, with hopes that many people will continue cycling instead of driving as lockdowns ease. The familiarity many of us have achieved with video-conferencing and webinars might mean continued changes to how we work and attend business meetings, while architects are starting to wonder about how we’ll change our living spaces to e.g. improve energy efficiency, if many people are likely to work from home more frequently in the future.

Researchers at the James Hutton Institute are responding to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and asking questions about its impact on climate change. While it’s too early to know the ongoing effects of the pandemic on our desire to get on a plane/cycle to work/eat more local food, and some early signs that changes made as a result of the pandemic might even increase ‘climate negative’ behaviours, we will be working with partners in the UK and beyond to understand the impact of the pandemic on reducing and adapting to climate change.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog post are the views of the author, and not an official position of the institute or funder.

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Printed from /blogs/climatechange/climate-change-and-covid-19-%E2%80%93-making-connection on 24/11/20 09:22:09 PM

The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.