The Coronavirus opens a narrow window of opportunity to correct our actions to cope with climate change

Like Comment

It is needless to say that the Covid-19 pandemic is a global tragedy with huge human and economic consequences even if the precise impacts have yet to be determined. Although this global crisis is not yet over, we can make two observations. On the one hand, economic activities are the main source of CO2 emissions as economic slowdown due to the Coronavirus lead to a significant reduction in global CO2 emissions and air pollution this year [1]. On the other hand, the world economy is likely to return to its pre-crisis level regardless of the form of the shock it undergoes [2]. The expected economic recovery will plausibly lead to the emission trend as before the Covid-19, for which experts already expressed their concern about the feasibility of keeping the increase in global average temperature below 2°C with respect to pre-industrial levels [3]. Even worse, the recovery’s impact on CO2 emissions would more than compensate for the emission reduction due to Covid-19, similarly to the economic recovery after the 2008 economic crisis [4].

Whatever the outcome of the Coronavirus crisis, the challenge of climate change continues to confront all of us. My point is that this pandemic opens a narrow window of opportunity to make our efforts to combat both the economic crisis and climate change. It gives me a glimmer of hope that we can still change our actions to be more social and environmental-friendly.

Shaping individual behaviors towards social and environmental issues seems to be a relevant factor [5]. But public policies would play a considerable role here. Before the crisis erupted, environmental spending was often difficult to obtain even in most developed countries because of budgetary trade-offs. The pandemic makes thousands of billions of dollars available in current (and possibly future) recovery packages that several countries and international institutions are taking to stimulate economic activities. If these amounts were directed towards low-carbon actions, the compatibility between economic growth and environmental protection would be possible under the environmental Kuznets curve hypothesis (which assumes that pollution can be reduced after a certain level of income according to an inverted-U shaped  curve) [6]. In this way, the Earth would wake up after the Covid-19 under better auspices.

(Poster image: Pixabay)


  3. Schurer, A., Mann, M., Hawkins, E. et al. Importance of the pre-industrial baseline for likelihood of exceeding Paris goals. Nature Clim Change 7, 563-567 (2017).
  4. Peters, G., Marland, G., Le Quéré, C. et al. Rapid growth in CO2 emissions after the 2008-2009 global financial crisis. Nature Clim Change 2, 2–4 (2012).
  5. Lunn, P. D., Belton, C. A., Lavin, C., McGowan, F. P., Timmons, S., & Robertson, D. A. (2020). Using Behavioral Science to help fight the Coronavirus. Journal of Behavioral Public Administration, 3(1).
  6. Grossman, G.M., Krueger, A.B. (1993). Environmental Impacts of a North American Free Trade Agreement. In Garber P. (ed) “The Mexico-U.S. Free Trade Agreement”. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Phu Nguyen-Van

Senior scientist, National Center for Scientific Research, BETA (CNRS & University of Strasbourg)

No comments yet.