Countries that are preparing to revive their economies hurt by the coronavirus (COVID-19) now have the opportunity to focus more on low carbon development investments, World Resources Institute (WRI) Turkey Sustainable Cities Director Gunes Cansiz told Anadolu Agency in a recent interview.
As COVDI-19 lowered economic activity in many countries by reducing working hours in factories and lessened traffic flow, a fall in air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions followed, Cansiz explained.
However, she warned that many experts agree that these positive signs will not be permanent because to compensate for losses during the COVID-19 period, countries will accelerate investments in its aftermath.
"At this point, it is very important to identify the needs and respond to them with responsible and planned production. However, many countries have already announced plans to revive their fossil fuel industries and aviation sector," she said.
She cited the Czech Republic and Poland, which have already announced plans to withdraw from the European Union's Green Deal.
The Green Deal, announced in January 2020, is the EU’s roadmap to make the continent's economy sustainable to ensure zero net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
China, the birthplace of COVID-19, is another example, she said, detailing that the country already completed plans to construct new coal plants to uplift its economy.
The U.K.-based Carbon Brief also warned in its latest analysis that China, the world's largest carbon dioxide (CO2) emitter, the State Grid Corporation of China, and China Electricity Council were lobbying to get a green light for the construction of hundreds of new coal-fired power plants.
Coal is the most carbon-intensive fossil fuel and still accounted for 57.7% of China’s energy use in 2019, the data shows.
"Coal plants, which burn approximately 54% of all coal used in the country, provide 52% of generating capacity and 66% of electricity output – down from a peak of 81% in 2007," the Carbon Brief's report showed.
"The important point is not to trigger a new climate crisis while trying to eliminate the impacts of a health crisis. The governments need to take lessons from the previous economic crisis. A number of countries focused on heavy industry investments like coal plants, highway construction and automobile production units which resulted in a climate change crisis," Cansiz highlighted.
- Seven million premature deaths every year due to air pollution
She noted that similar fossil-fuel investments would deteriorate the current situation and bring a bigger air pollution problem that would cause the premature deaths of millions of people every year.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), air pollution kills an estimated seven million people worldwide every year. WHO data shows that 9 out of 10 people breathe air containing high levels of pollutants. From smog hanging over cities to smoke inside the home, air pollution poses a major threat to health and climate, the organization warns.
More than 80% of people living in urban areas that monitor air pollution are exposed to air quality levels that exceed WHO guideline limits, with low- and middle-income countries suffering from the highest exposures, both indoors and outdoors.
"Thus, what I can say is that the governments have two choices now. They will either will stick within an inefficient, polluted, high-carbon and unsustainable growth model or they will make an opportunity out of this revival process and focus on low-carbon development which will also contribute to the fight against climate change and air pollution," Cansiz said.
A comprehensive report from New Climate Economy in 2018 showed that bold climate action could deliver at least $26 trillion in economic benefits through 2030 compared with the business as usual as well as creating new employment for around 65 million.
"COVID-19 showed us how vulnerable modern life is to a pandemic. Cities are among the most damaged by the virus. Thus, the politicians should put urban planning at the top of their agenda," she suggested.
Cansiz also described how the virus changed habits in the use of public transportation.
"The usage of public transportation decreased substantially while a great number of people tried individual transportation alternatives like bicycles and scooters. The use of bicycle sharing system in New York increased by 67% in March as a direct result of changing habits due to the COVID-19. This trend should be observed in the post-COVID-19 process to understand the real impacts," she said.
Cansiz concluded that after the novel pandemic is taken under control, the term "responsible consumer" should be more important than ever to show that consumers are the ones making considerate choices to support low-carbon development to combat climate change.
By Nuran Erkul Kaya