The coronavirus is giving the environment a break — but experts think it's unlikely to stay that way

  • Experts are pondering the long-term environmental impact of the coronavirus.
  • Pollution levels in China have gone down an estimated 25% as the country has been on lockdown.
  • But the same time, medical masks and gloves are washing up on the beaches in Hong Kong.
  • Experts warn that the decline in emissions could change as governments lift quarantine orders and start to rebuild their economies.
  • View more episodes of Business Insider Today on Facebook.

With a third of the world's population on lockdown because of the coronavirus, the environment is getting a break from the pollution of everyday activity.

Goats are running through streets in Wales and skies are clearer across cities, thanks to reported reduction in air pollution from Venice to Los Angeles.

But nature's return to cities is just one part of the story. Medical masks and gloves are washing up on beaches in Hong Kong because of improper disposal and policy makers have put environmental policies and climate summits on hold to focus on the coronavirus crisis at hand. Advertisement

Experts are pondering the long-term environmental impact of the coronavirus.

"Is it just a cyclical blip and then we just carry on as before? Or are we actually going to… start to make the sort of structural changes that we need to get on a different track and actually start moving towards net- zero emissions?" Simon Evans, policy editor at Carbon Brief, told Business Insider Today.

The short-term implications are much easier to see. Many of the behaviors people have given up — like driving to work everyday or taking international flights — are extremely carbon intensive.
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In 2018, air travel accounted for 2.4% of global carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel use. One study estimated that in the first week of April there were 60% fewer flights compared to the same time last year.

The decline in emissions could change as the world begins to emerge from quarantine and rebuild the economy. "The environmental impact is going to be a product of the economic impact and how that varies from one sector to another," Christopher Jones, director of UC Berkeley's CoolClimate Network research project, told Business Insider Today. Advertisement

"Are we going to be investing in those clean energy, low carbon technologies, or is this going to kind of sidetrack us from making those investments?"

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