Is the pandemic good for the environment?
At first glance, the corona pandemic is helping to achieve the climate protection goals.
As a budding physicist, it was a long time ago that I could win precious little from the growing Eco-movement. I was reluctant to see how science and technology were often label as a direct threat to the environment. I found the slogan “Small is beautiful” silly; and when I later protested against environmental destruction. I couldn’t bring myself to sing along seriously with “Karl the Beetle was not asked / they just chased him away”.
Even today; I feel no satisfaction that as a result of the various lock-downs due to the corona pandemic; there is not so much flown and driving and less production. Although this is currently reducing environmental pollution in the highly industrialized countries; the mere restriction of production and traffic while maintaining the same level of largely fossil fuel technology can hardly be a permanent solution to global climate problems – at most a temporary respite.
In fact, threatens the environment in the long term immense damage if the supply on which date innovative fuels and CO 2 low-carbon technologies could reach the whole world collapse, caused by the pandemic. The political scientists Andreas Goldthau from the University of Erfurt and Llewelyn Hughes from the Australian National University in Canberra warn against this with good reason (Nature 585, pp. 28-30, 2020) .
As the authors show, an ecologically extremely advantageous international division of labor has established itself over the past decade. Chinese companies dominate the photovoltaic market, but purchase the machines for manufacturing silicon wafers and solar cells from Germany. As a result, the prices for solar modules fell by 90 percent within ten years, and accordingly the costs of solar power generation fell worldwide. The same applies – with different supply chains – for wind turbines, lithium batteries and electric cars.
But now, under the sign of Covid-19, several governments are trying to turn back globalization. The US under Donald Trump in particular had already begun to push China out of existing trade networks through protectionist measures; in order to replace it with “trustworthy” partners such as Australia, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea. However, it will hardly be possible to isolate China economically as consistently as it did in the era of the Cold War with the Soviet Union, because China’s interdependence with the world economy, not least with the USA, is much closer than that of the Eastern Bloc at the time the west.
In any case, such politically motivated production relocations cost an enormous amount of time and money, which could be better used for the faster expansion of clean energies. Because, as Goldthau and Hughes point out, time is of the essence. In order to achieve the goal of global warming below two degrees; declared by almost all countries in the world. CO 2 emissions will have to fall by eight percent per year over the next decade. All corona lockdowns will not even remotely accomplish this; and any politically motivated customs barrier against the globally networked supply chains will only move the goal of a CO 2 -neutral global economy. Which is already being targeted for 2050, even further afield.
To achieve the two-degree climate target; the pandemic-induced throttling of the economy. While at the same time isolationist church tower policy is the wrong way to go. What is needed is a “green” industrial policy. That is internationally coordinate and develops environmentally friendly technologies on a large scale. Small is beautiful? On the contrary: the bigger, the better.