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Will COVID-19 be the NetZero game changer or false dawn?

Dale Edwards, Strategic Consultant – Green Energy, shares his thoughts on the potential failure to act on the climatic opportunity that COVID-19 has given.

Recently I read an article, which commented that after the 2008 financial crisis, greenhouse emissions initially dropped. However, by 2010 they exceeded 2008 levels and have continued to rise every year since. Many Governments top priority was to get their economy back on track and it would appear for the last 10 years at the expense of the environment.

In recent months greenhouse emissions have been significantly reduced due to a lack of economic activity and mobility across the globe. There are many staggering examples. In Italy nitrogen oxide levels dropped 10% week on week from the end of January to the middle of March and in China during lockdown, carbon emissions reduced by 25% or 200 megatons of CO2 because of decreased oil refining, coal burning and airline traffic.

Many are predicting that the way we work will change, with some firms already deciding to close their offices for the foreseeable future. Over the last few months home working has become the norm for many. Despite the lockdown and other challenges such as home schooling the experience has become liberating. Speaking to business contacts, after resolving the initial digital and logistical challenges, a more blended approach to work is emerging with sustainability and environmental governance increasing in importance. The requirement and desire to travel is likely to be reduced, certainly over the next couple of years, which will have a positive short to medium term environmental impact.

Due to COVID-19 economic output has fallen off a cliff, with many countries expecting sharp but hopefully short recessions. When the economic recovery happens, will it be at the expense of the environment, like it was in the financial crisis in 2008? COVID-19 should be an environmental wakeup call with people enjoying the benefits of less traffic and cleaner air. I recently saw a cartoon which resonated with me. It depicted a tired Earth with plasters on it, thanking an image of coronavirus for the break in harming Earth. The coronavirus image responded by saying, “do you think the people of Earth now understand what they have done?”

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development are one of a number increasing voices advocating that institutional and Government investments in capital projects should have stronger environmental considerations, with low carbon energy generation a major focus. Existing low carbon projects which are planned or under construction are likely to be delayed or face cost increases until a vaccine has been found and widely available, due to new norm of working. Despite projects taking longer with increased costs, it is imperative that these continue and are completed.

Overall, failure to move faster towards a global green energy generation model after this crisis will be lost opportunity. I look forward too many of these projects whether nuclear, solar, wind, bioenergy or tidal getting the green light over the coming years. Only time will tell whether a consequence of COVID-19 will help with NetZero becoming a reality or another false dawn!


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