ENVIROnmental Committee: The issue of COVID-19 related changes in fossil fuel use in the effort to stymie climate change
In this year’s conference, the environmental committee is going to be debating two different topics: COVID-19 related changes in fossil fuel use in the effort to stymie climate change.
Before introducing the topic, it is essential to outline what causes global warming. Primarily, it’s the burning of fossil fuels that results in carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere and, with increased levels of greenhouse gases in the air, enhances the greenhouse effect that traps heat in the atmosphere causing an increase in global temperatures.
The Paris conference is one of the most important meetings which tackles global warming. Leaders from all over the world unite to discuss actions against the momentous issue This is done in the form of a treaty whose ultimate goal is to prevent the temperature on Earth from rising over 1.5 degrees celsius (as of 2015). Brazil pledged to reduce 43% of their emissions and the EU guaranteed to reduce them by 55% by 2023. While the global initiative is present, many many other leading countries refused to sign the treaty in its entirety; Iran, Turkey, Eritrea, Iraq, South Sudan, Libya, and Yemen did not join. Notoriously, the United States in 2020 pulled out as a signatory until Trump — former President of the US— was elected out of office.
While great emphasis has been placed on the momentous economic and social issues posed by Covid-19, the pandemic’s positive impact on the environment has not been acknowledged to the same degree. The global pandemic led to a rapid decrease in fossil fuel usage due to the halt of certain sectors of the economy — like public transport and energy — which formerly abused the virulent material. For example, as of this year, the residents of the state of Punjab (India) were able to see snow on the peaks of the Himalayas for the first time in 30 years from about 200 kilometers away due to a massive drop in air pollution and fossil fuel consumption. Covid-19 also cooperated in the suppression of the Chinese consumption of coal by about 20% and sharply diminished the consumption of energy and emission of CO2, NO2 in many of China’s regions. Researchers have concluded that the drastic drop in economic activity due to enforced confinement meant less energy was used, resulting in a daily global reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. A report by the Energy Information Administration (EIA) explains that “reduced economic activity related to the COVID-19 pandemic has caused changes in energy supply and demand patterns in 2020. Uncertainties persist across the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) outlook for all energy sources, including liquid fuels, natural gas, electricity, coal, and renewables.”
Although, while the positive environmental impact of Covid-19 is evident, many countries are not aiming to maintain it. Since the beginning of the pandemic, a number of countries have directed over $300 billion in new funds towards fossil fuel activities rather than clean energy. Not all countries have enforced strict lockdowns, decreasing the environmental benefits of the pandemic. Experts suggest that 45% of emissions need to be cut in the next 10 years for the countries to stay under the 1.5% quota established at the Paris agreement. Research suggests that fossil fuel consumption and CO2 emissions are likely to return to their pre-crisis levels or even exceed them, within a two-year horizon despite large reductions in the first quarter following the start of the pandemic.
This brings up the issue of governmental over-reliance on unstable economies, who then project their own faults into issues such as climate change when crises such as COVID-19 play out. Countries tend to choose the safer financial choice and disregard the environmental impact of it. One of the possible solutions to this issue would be to invest more in renewable sources of energy such as wind, solar, geothermal, and tidal powers, as well as incentivize countries to use them effectively to ensure the highest energy production levels.
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