COVID-19 Has Significantly Reduced Emissions But How Do We Prevent A Post-Crisis Rebound?
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COVID-19 Has Significantly Reduced Emissions But How Do We Prevent A Post-Crisis Rebound?

COVID-19 Has Significantly Reduced Emissions But How Do We Prevent A Post-Crisis Rebound?

Credit: CHARLES REX ARBOGAST / AP

As the world scrambles to combat the coronavirus pandemic, stay-at-home orders have been essential to keeping people safe. But during this same time, there has also been a drastic drop in global emissions—and it’s showing the sheer impact that certain polluters have. Taking note of those polluters will help prevent emissions from bouncing right back once life returns to normal.

So how do the numbers break down? What steps can we take to maintain our climate health after the crisis?

To get a broader expert perspective, I spoke with Generate Capital Co-Founder Jigar Shah, who invests in cleantech companies out of the fund’s $1 billion capital pool.

The Breakdown of the Emissions Drop

After 9/11, it took two years for airlines to return to usual business. Comparing this to today, Shah told me in our recent interview that he predicts “the 1 billion people around the world that create most of the pollution will take a long time to get back to normal.” Luckily, this means there is time to take action before emissions spike back up.

The biggest contributor to air pollution is nitrogen dioxide (NO2). Often a clear indicator of the global economy, NO2 is linked with factory output and vehicles. And with the economy currently being down, NO2 pollution has gone down with it.

In fact, pollution in New York has gone down 50% since last year this time. The biggest source of nitrogen dioxide is the burning of fossil fuels. Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions have also dropped, largely linked to falls in coal consumption and industrial output.

So it’s no surprise that when coal use dropped by 40% in China’s six largest power plants, emissions dropped with it.

The Externalities of Uplifting Clean Energy

80% of nitrogen dioxide in cities comes from vehicle exhaust. Demand for urban power also spikes power plant emissions. In addition, inefficient heating and cooling systems play a large role in industrial emissions.

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These are the consequence of every-day bustling lifestyles. With the knowledge that daily life contributes significantly to air pollution, the time has never been better to power our lives with renewable energy sources.

There are economic benefits to doing so as well. Shifting to renewable energy sources is going to require a higher output of manufacturing and installation. It will create much-needed jobs for the sector, as the clean energy sector shed over 100,000 jobs in March 2020 alone.

Shah maintains an optimistic view, telling me that governments will “turn to the renewable energy industry to provide … a stimulus to the global economy.” Beyond environmental and fiscal benefits, renewables can also help governments reach their climate reduction targets even during these unusual times.

From a consumer level—for people like you and me—this means change entails not only making conscious decisions but also advocating for clean energy alternatives starting at the local level.

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