New reports are claiming that the outbreak of this deadly virus has reduced the greenhouse gas emission in China. It has already been noted that many industries and business sectors have slowed down their business due to the fear of spreading this virus. Labors are being told to stay at home until the situation is under control. And, this temporary slowdown in operation of various industries has slashed the emission of harmful gases compared to the last year.
Hong Kong harbor is usually one of the busiest in the world with hundreds of ferries, cruise, and container ships passing through every day. But as the coronavirus outbreak is worsened, the economy has slowed and the waters have become quiet. The situation is a lot worse in mainland China where according to one estimate lockdowns and business closures may have already cost almost 200 billion dollars this year. But as the economic price of this outbreak goes up, the damage to the environment is going down.
Studies show that a drop in coal and oil use in China has reduced carbon dioxide emissions by at least 25% and levels of general air pollutants are also significantly down. Simon Evans, Carbon Brief said to Al Jazeera that “Across key industrial indicators such as coal-fired power stations and steel production and there have been big reductions 15 to 40 percent in each of those indicators. In aggregate we think something like 100 million tons of co2 hasn’t been emitted compared to last year.”
There are fewer emissions elsewhere too. Much of the global supply chain has been broken by the disruptions in China factories and countries like Cambodia and Vietnam can’t get enough raw materials from China so all slowing down or suspending operations. The International Air Transport Association expects global demand for air travel to fall by almost five percent this year. In Asia, that number could be higher. Less demand means fewer planes in the air and a decrease in emissions.
We have seen this sort of thing before like during the 2008 global financial crisis but after that economic slowdown, China looked to make up for the lost time by introducing a massive stimulus plan designed to get the economy moving again meaning any environmental gains were soon lost.
China’s government has already promised tax cuts and other assistance to help companies bounce back from the economic impact of the outbreak. President Xi Jinping wants a quick recovery but that could be risky. We think the leaders in Beijing are very eager to restart the economy. We have already seen some of the factories sequentially opened but, the concern is that if the workers started to come back to the companies and offices, there could be a potential second wave of the spread of the virus.
Workers will also be wanting to start earning again after many companies suspended wages because of the downturn. As China’s economic engine starts turning over again, scientists will be watching with interest what happens to the environment as a result.