The global shutdown brought on by COVID-19 has completely shifted our way of living. US air passenger traffic is down 95%, vehicle traffic has rapidly declined across the country and many industry operations have slowed down. This widespread response, aimed at slowing the spread of the virus, has taken its toll on the US economy with many major financial institutions predicting a second-quarter gross domestic product decline of anywhere from 25% to 50%. With so much despair surrounding the economy and public health, there could be a silver lining, but it’s one that comes with many caveats.
A recent analysis by Carbon Brief predicts that global carbon emissions could decline by more than 4% of the global total from 2019. Pre-crisis estimates predicted CO2 emissions would rise by 1% in 2020. It’s similar to the declines in C02 emissions that we’ve seen during previous periods of crisis like the Great Depression, the 1991 Recession and the Financial Crisis of 2008, but this pandemic could cause the largest ever annual fall.
While this might seem optimistic, the reality is that the drastic decline is caused by unsustainable measures, measures that have strong negative impacts on our economy. This is best illustrated by the relationship between economic output and carbon emissions, a concept called carbon intensity. While C02 Emissions have fallen, so has our GDP – meaning the carbon intensity of GDP has stayed relatively stable. It is only through aggressive changes to our building and energy infrastructure that we will see a sustainable drop in carbon intensity and a win-win solution for the economy and the environment.
As seen in similar time periods, like the ones listed above, sharp declines in C02 emissions due to economic crisis are closely followed by periods of large emissions output. The best example of this is the Financial Crisis of 2008-09, where emissions dropped to 440MtCO2, but the following year recorded 1,612MtCO2, largely due to economic stimulus. Environmentalists have growing concern around what these declines in CO2 emissions will mean for the years to come, that is, unless we make start to make drastic changes.
A couple of months of shelter in place will drop carbon emissions, but by no means is it a solution to combatting climate change (for obvious reasons). While this virus presents an incredibly long list of unknowns, it also confirms two things:
- Humans have an incredible impact on CO2 emissions.
- Aggressive collective response can make a difference.
Both of these realizations provide a beacon of hope that a collective effort towards reducing C02 emissions can make a difference. The effort behind the response looks similar, but the measures are far different. Instead of halting our lives, we change the way we consume and produce energy – a much more sustainable solution that will lower our carbon intensity and benefit our economy.
It’s no secret that the building sector is one of the largest culprits when it comes to CO2 emissions. For large facilities, these collective efforts will come in the form of energy efficiency improvements and the use of clean energy alternatives. EffectivEnergy Solutions is an energy efficiency consulting firm specialized in developing Master Energy Plans that help large facilities reduce their carbon footprint and save money. Where certain conditions exist we have developed a Master Energy Plan that can reduce a building or a campus’s carbon footprint, even where gas fired steam boilers are concerned.
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