Coronovirus might be bad for humans, but the plague is also proving to be very bad for climate change.
The Coronavirus has managed to seriously limit China's CO2 pollution, by far the biggest in the world and which accounts one third of global CO2 emissions, by cutting China's carbon dioxide emissions by about 100 million metric tons.
Just to put this in perspective, 100 million metric tons of CO2 is what developed European countries like Portugal, Lithuania, Hungary and Czechia create together in a single year.
A new analysis by the climate nonprofit Carbon Brief found that the widespread impact of the virus—including travel restrictions, longer holidays, and lower economic activity—means that neither has recovered from the usual lull around the Chinese New Year, a roughly two-week festival that began this year on January 25.
The report looked at emissions during the two-week period beginning 10 days after the start of the festival and compared that to the same period for each of the previous five years. Over that period in 2019, China emitted 400 million metric tons of carbon dioxide; this year’s figure is likely closer to 300 million metric tons.
Average atmospheric levels of NO2 (molecules per centimetre squared) in China which measure air pollution, measured by the NASA OMI instrument.
Electricity demand and industrial output in China remain far below their usual levels across a range of indicators, many of which are at their lowest two-week average in several years. These include:
- Coal use at power stations reporting daily data at a four-year low.
- Oil refinery operating rates in Shandong province at the lowest level since 2015.
- Output of key steel product lines at the lowest level for five years.
- Levels of NO2 air pollution over China down 36% on the same period last year.
- Domestic flights are down up to 70% compared to last month.
All told, the measures to contain coronavirus have resulted in reductions of 15% to 40% in output across key industrial sectors.
This is likely to have wiped out a quarter or more of the country’s CO2 emissions over the past two weeks, the period when activity would normally have resumed after the Chinese new-year holiday.
Initial analysis from the International Energy Agency (IEA) and Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) suggests the repercussions of the outbreak could shave up to half a percent off global oil demand in January-September this year.
Most analysts predict that this is a temporary situation and that China's CO2 pollution levels will get back to "normal" as soon as the virus dies out.
As of 24 February 2020, around 79,574 cases of Coronavirus have been confirmed, including in all provinces of China and more than two dozen other countries. Of these, 11,569 cases were classified as serious. There have been 2,629 deaths attributable to the disease, including 35 outside mainland China.