Is the pandemic good for the climate?

A number of measures have been taken by both states and private individuals around the world to combat SARS-CoV-2, including major restrictions on travel, production and transport. This has led to a significant reduction in negative environmental influences in many places. But commentators don't believe the measures will stop climate change in the long term.

Open/close all quotes
De Morgen (BE) /

Coronavirus won't bring about a change

It would be premature to expect a lasting change in consumer behaviour to bring about a fundamental change in the climate, warns De Morgen:

“Will we succeed with the principle of 'less' if it enables us to keep the climate viable? This sounds good, but the opposite is more likely to be the case. Many people are now experiencing first hand how much they need to change their behaviour in order to make any difference at all. And many will decide [when it comes to climate protection later] that they are not prepared to make this sacrifice. ... A strategy that counts on solving the climate change problem simply by changing people's behaviour is doomed to failure.”

Die Welt (DE) /

Pandemic and climate change not comparable

People are wrong if they think that these measures could provide a model for climate policy, Ralf Fücks of the think tank Zentrum Liberale Moderne writes in Die Welt:

“The analogy between the corona crisis and climate change is simply untenable. ... A virus pandemic has just one cause. Climate change, on the other hand, is a highly complex issue. ... Restrictions imposed in the fight against the pandemic are temporary. We accept them in the hope of returning quickly to the normality of modern life. Applied to climate change, they'd have to be imposed permanently: not for months but forever. Anyone wanting to sell this as a vision capable of winning a majority has another thing coming.”

Le Monde (FR) /

Global warming calls for a different approach

Measures for tackling global warming must be different to those designed to fight the coronavirus pandemic, write François Gemenne, member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and health expert Anneliese Depoux in Le Monde:

“Climate change requires us to show solidarity across borders, and not just within them. One can question the usefulness of closing borders to slow the spread of the virus, but what is certain is that greenhouse gas emissions won't stop at border crossings. And above all, coronavirus control measures are imposed out of necessity: we didn't choose them, we're subjected to them. Measures to combat climate change will have to be chosen.”

Phileleftheros (CY) /

Money no argument in a crisis

The virus threat has suddenly made possible things that had always failed for financial reasons, Phileleftheros observes:

“With every initiative or project aimed at curbing global warming, we usually think of the cost. Financial interests hold sway; the main debate is about who pays the bill. Things have gone so far that we don't do anything anymore, despite all the experts' warnings that we will soon reach the point of no return. The global economy will of course not be slowed down to protect the environment. But the murderous epidemic has shown us that the catastrophic course we have been pursuing must be stopped at all cost. Our way of life must become more environmentally friendly, no matter how expensive this may be.”

Der Spiegel (DE) /

Global warming is a much bigger threat

The coronavirus epidemic is only seemingly worse and more acute than climate change, writes Der Spiegel:

“The further away the presumed consequences of inaction seem to be - both in time and space - the less willing we humans are to change our behaviour. ... So our long-known cognitive distortions make the one thing seem more threatening than the other. In spite of the fact that from a global and human-historical perspective precisely the opposite is the case: the climate crisis and species extinction are far more threatening to humanity than one more viral disease, however threatening and potentially fatal this disease may be. ... It is the task of politicians to draw the necessary conclusions from these facts. And also to finally take action against the climate crisis.”

Observador (PT) /

Virus is having an impact where words go unheard

Observador notes that Sars-CoV-2 is having a bigger impact on the environment than all the climate activism of recent years:

“How can it be that the virus has already reduced Chinese pollution by 25 percent even without a Greta campaigning for this? No matter how often it is stressed that the virus won't kill that many, people are still afraid; yet when people say that climate change will be the end of the world everything continues as before. ... Perhaps in a world where health is the greatest asset, a new virus seems like an unacceptable risk. Moreover our civilisation has difficulties accepting the evidence of its own limitations: we want to believe that we can control everything, from the climate to the spread of viruses and bacteria. ... But we forget that humanity's history is also written by nature.”

Mérce (HU) /

An opportunity to rethink capitalism

The restrictions put on us by the coronavirus can serve as inspiration for a more sustainable world, says Mérce:

“We can be pleased that the environmental and air pollution caused by excessive capitalist production is decreasing as a side-effect of the epidemic. This experience can serve as an inspiration for creating a world based on a fairer distribution of property and goods, with the aim of ensuring the livelihood of the inhabitants of our planet in a sustainable manner.”