How Covid-19 Lockdowns Are Driving Down Climate Changing Emissions

Posted on October 04, 2021

Over the last two years, the Covid-19 pandemic has upended our daily lives, challenging the many ordinary facets of them we otherwise took for granted and reshaped the ways societies as a whole operate. Through rapid lockdown restrictions we’ve learnt quickly how to work over Zoom or exercise indoors amongst the many changes to our regular schedules.

On a larger scale, one thing the pandemic had an immediate impact on was the environment. With everyone indoors and the regular economic activity suddenly put on pause, the influence our activity previously had on the natural world became more apparent. Busy shipping routes now deserted of ships saw a flourishing of marine life. Smog levels decreased in urban areas with emptied roads. Think back to the “nature is healing” meme trend from 2020 and you’ll realise there was quite a bit of truth behind that joke!

In fact, it is estimated that global lockdowns contributed to fossil-fuel CO2 emissions dropping by 2.4 billion tonnes in 2020, a 7% reduction from the previous year. Vehicle emissions are a large contributor to overall CO2 emissions. With less people commuting into the office every day and overall traffic volumes decreased, emissions the world over dropped.

So what can we learn from this? Should we be adopting a lockdown lifestyle for the rest of our lives to combat climate-changing emissions once and for all? Well, not quite - for our own sanities that might not be feasible! However, it should prompt a rethink of how our daily activities directly impact the environment and realistic changes we can make to mitigate them.

You might not be able to work from home indefinitely, but even being able to do so a few days of the week suddenly reduces your own carbon footprint if you were driving into work everyday. Extrapolate that to the entire commuting workforce and you could expect a substantial impact on emissions figures.

The pandemic taught us that we can radically pivot towards new ways of doing things when prompted to. Efforts to reduce climate-changing emissions in the past were sometimes dismissed for being too radical of a change and that society would struggle to adopt these changes quickly. We now know that it can be done, we just have to remember the lessons the pandemic lockdowns have taught us.

With countries now itching to get ‘back to normal’ we have to realise there were substantial issues with our previous activities then. While last year’s drop in climate-changing emissions may have been a welcome reprieve after year-on-year increases, the fact is climate change is still ongoing and likely even accelerating. The recent changes we’ve experienced and learned from may just provide us with the answers we need going forward.
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