Analysis: Will lockdown spark long-term changes good for the planet?

Analysis: Will lockdown spark long-term changes good for the planet?
Copyright Michael Sohn/Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved
By Darren McCaffrey, Political Editor
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"If 2020 has proved anything, it’s that anything can happen," writes Euronews' political editor Darren McCaffrey, pondering COVID-19's impact on the climate.


The coronavirus lockdown might have temporarily cleared our skies and our roads, but it has done nothing to cool the climate. Scientists are warning this year is on course to be the world’s hottest since records began, with a 75 per cent chance that 2020 will break the record set four years ago.

Did you spot any snow this January? Probably not - or at least, not much - it has already been recorded as the hottest on record. The British natural historian, Sir David Attenborough, is warning that what he brands "this new emergency" must not mean the world forgets about its biggest emergency, that of climate change.

But there is no doubt that it has slipped down news agendas and those of politicians too. This year’s annual COP climate summit in Glasgow, which was due to be the most significant since Paris five years ago, has been postponed to next year. The Czech Prime Minister, Andrej Babiš, said the EU should forget about the Green Deal and focus on COVID-19. The Polish government argued some measures might have to be delayed.

However, there are signs that some leaders are not allowing the pandemic to derail the green agenda. If anything, many want to take advantage. The European Commission has already said it will stick to ambitious environmental goals set out last December, including making the EU climate neutral by achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

This week Angela Merkel waded in. At a virtual climate summit (very much the new norm) she said: “It is important that recovery programmes keep an eye on the climate. We must not sideline climate but invest in climate technologies.” Essentially, EU officials are hoping the unprecedented recovery effort, with all of those billions of euros being invested across Europe, will be an opportunity to accelerate the transition to climate neutrality.

Other ideas being considered include linking bailout funds for the aviation industry to a requirement for airlines to sign up to carbon-reduction commitments.

And there is also hope that the lockdown itself might help. Yes, emissions will fall this year, with fewer planes, cars, factories and a dramatic slowdown in the world economy all helping, if at a huge financial cost.

But, could longer-term trends emerge too? Might we end up flying less, particularly if it becomes more expensive? Will some people end up working from home more and commuting less? Could global supply chains become a bit more local? If 2020 has proved anything, it’s that anything can happen, norms can quickly become abnormal and accepted practices become impractical.

Ultimately, the near-worldwide lockdown might temporarily be very bad for our global economy, but in the long term it might just help out Mother Earth.

Darren McCaffrey is Euronews' political editor.

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