Nearly everyone agrees that we have to tackle climate change. The problem is, climate protection requires self-abnegation: no weekend trip to Rome, no SUV in the garage, no cozy 22 degrees indoors during winter. So when it comes to taking action, the consensus crumbles. And the actions that we do take tend to be contradictory. We bike to work but fly from Stuttgart to Hamburg (because the train takes, well, forever). If our conscience nags us, we have a ready excuse: individual action won’t change anything anyway. Yet this excuse is as self-serving as it is invalid. Because Covid-19’s repercussions are demonstrating that climate change can indeed be tackled.
Less energy, fewer emissions
Germany, for example, will likely consume as much as 7% less energy in 2020 than in 2019. Energy consumption in the first half of the year – which was tangibly impacted by the lockdown – was nearly 9% lower. Because of the preferential dispatch of renewables (put simply: wind farms are used to meet demand before coal-fired power plants are), carbon emissions from energy production declined by 13% in the first half of the year and are expected to drop by about 10% for the year as a whole. For the same reason, the share of renewables in Germany’s energy mix is expected to increase from 44% in 2019 to over 50% in 2020.
Commuters become homebodies
Corona curbed travel. During the first lockdown, the number of passengers at Frankfurt Airport plummeted by 95%. Not surprisingly, jet fuel sales dropped by 46% in the first half of 2020. With millions of employees working from home, public transport use declined dramatically too, by 70% on average in Germany and by around 85% in Madrid and Milan. Similarly, cars stayed in garages. In Germany, gasoline sales – and, happily, traffic deaths –fell by 13% in the first half of 2020.
Home sweet home office
Working at home of course increases energy consumption. Household appliances and devices – coffee machines, vacuum cleaners, dishwashers, and above all phones and computers – tend to be used more. The estimates of the corona-induced increase in residential electricity consumption vary from 4% to 20%. But the additional costs are hardly prohibitive: using a laptop at home costs about 15 cents a day, a computer with a big monitor about 50 cents. By comparison, using the stove at a high setting for an hour costs 50 cents as well.
Not just more electricity is being consumed. A survey conducted by Germany’s Central Institute of Mental Health indicated that more than a third of respondents said that during the first lockdown they drank more alcohol.
Energy consumption is down not just in Europe but worldwide. The International Energy Agency (IEA) says that corona has induced the “biggest shock to the global energy system since World War II.” The IEA expects global energy demand to decline by 6% in 2020, Europe’s demand by 11%. Similarly, it anticipates that global carbon emissions will fall by 8%. The decline was even steeper—17%—during the first lockdown.
Beginning in July, however, when the restrictions had largely been lifted worldwide, emissions immediately returned to their earlier levels. So it’s definitely too early to declare that global warming has been defeated.