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Is nature really the big winner of the Covid-19 pandemic?


The confinement of nearly 3 billion human beings offers respite to the planet, but cannot be a response to global warming.

Dolphins observed in Sardinia, a puma photographed in the deserted streets of the Chilean capital, the crystal clear waters of the Grand Canal of Venice ... This Wednesday March 25, more than 3 billion human beings are confined around the world due of the Covid-19 pandemic which has killed more than 20,000 people to date. In the four corners of the globe, the same scenes: closed factories, empty streets and stopped airports. A dramatic situation which leads, in fact, to a drastic drop in human activities and which ultimately offers some respite to our planet.

Read also: How the Covid-19 epidemic overwhelmed the planet

Dramatic drop in CO2 emissions

One of the first positive consequences to emerge in general darkness is the dramatic fall in CO2 emissions. From an economic point of view, the collapse of demand, travel bans and the closure of factories is a nightmare. For the environment it is a blessing. In February, Chinese carbon dioxide emissions fell 25%, or 200 million tonnes, compared to the same period in 2019, according to the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) . This decrease is equivalent to the annual CO2 emissions of Argentina, Egypt or Vietnam. Experts say the death of Covid-19 in China will be less than that averted by the drop in air pollution, estimated at around 1.1 million deaths each year.

Read also: Coronavirus epidemic lowers greenhouse gas emissions in China

The Chinese slowdown also led to a 36% drop in coal consumption in power plants in China, with an almost equivalent collapse in oil consumption in refineries. In terms of air transport, the sector's almost total paralysis contributes to reducing its significant CO2 emissions. Initial indications are that this drop was 4.3% for the month of February, but promises to be even larger for the month of March.

Beyond China, the containment measures taken in Europe, and in particular in France since March 17, are also starting to show their effects. In Paris, there is a marked improvement in air quality, according to a first Airparif report published on Wednesday. Over the week of March 16 to 20, compared to other months in March, the association for monitoring air quality in Île-de-France noted “ an improvement in the air quality of around 20 to 30% in the Paris conurbation, following a drop in emissions of more than 60% for nitrogen oxides ”. " Despite an increase in residential heating, this drop is largely due to the sharp decrease in road and air traffic ", with the implementation of containment. " In 40 years of Airparif measurement, this situation has never happened so significantly and on so many stations ."

The animals are back

And other positive effects are visible with the Covid-19 crisis: a renewal of biodiversity. The fall in maritime traffic in the port of Cagliari, in Sardinia, has enabled the dolphins to return. A first for many years.

Also in Italy, in Venice, the waters of the Grand Canal, freed from the incessant ballet of boats and gondolas, have become clear due to the cessation of the trade of boatmen.

The crystal clear waters of Venice. ANDREA PATTARO / AFP

In France, in addition to the birds that cheerfully take advantage of the deserted streets of Paris, the Calanques National Park, near Marseille, has seen an almost unprecedented frequency of animals in recent days. Shearwaters, Northern Gannets, a passing gray heron, dolphins, and tuna have been seen by park officials on patrol at sea in areas prohibited to fishing, reports France 3.

On the other side of the Atlantic, in Chile, a puma who had abandoned the mountains surrounding Santiago de Chile in search of food was observed, Tuesday, in the deserted streets of this city, where a night curfew is in force since Sunday.

A cougar seen in the streets of Santiago de Chile. ANDRES PINA / AFP

Another good news for animals, China decided on February 24 to ban trade and consumption of wild animals " completely ".

Bounce back

But are the effects of the decline in human activity good news for the climate? Certainly in the short term. In the long run, this could be a disaster. Because the respite could be short-lived, according to experts who expect all the economies to try, once the crisis has passed, to catch up with the delay taken at the start of the year. Contacted by Le Figaro , François Gemenne, specialist in environmental geopolitics, researcher at the University of Liège and member of the IPCC, warns of a future " climate catastrophe ".

Read also: Coronavirus: assessment, symptoms, treatments, restrictions ... All the answers to your questions about the Covid-19 epidemic

As soon as the crisis is over, the economic rebound will be very strong. This is the case after every crisis in modern history. However, the climate does not need a white year, but a sustained reduction in greenhouse gas emissions , ”explains François Gemenne. Another point of concern for the researcher: " the willingness of governments to support the fossil industries during this crisis ". The leaders are putting a coin back into the machine by announcing recovery plans for the most affected sectors, namely the oil, air, gas and mining companies. It seems that we are once again missing out on the possibility of planning a low-carbon economy, when oil prices are at their lowest, ”he continues.

Finally, François Gemenne highlights the risk that “ many ” of governments will take advantage of this crisis to “ challenge the measures to combat global warming ”. For example, the Czech Republic and Poland are already asking for the European Green New Deal to be abandoned. Above all, the current containment measures risk giving people the idea that the fight against climate change requires the complete cessation of the economy. And later, I very much doubt that we will say to ourselves: "Ah, but it was great for the climate, the confinement". Beware of this rhetoric that we hear a lot: "Let's apply the same measures for the climate as for the Covid-19", or even "the epidemic is a general repetition before climate change". It is irresponsible and dangerous, ”he continues.

Read also: Does air pollution really increase susceptibility to coronavirus?

And to conclude: “ The coronavirus crisis and climate change certainly have a lot in common, but are fundamentally different: for the moment, the pandemic mainly affects industrialized countries. Climate change is the opposite ”.

Source: lefigaro

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