Coronavirus: The worst way to drive down emissions

Read the full story in Grist.

The rapidly spreading coronavirus has infected over 90,000 people worldwide, stoked fears about a worldwide pandemic, and rattled global markets. The coronavirus is also having an unexpected environmental effect: It’s cutting carbon emissions.

China’s work stoppages and flagging industrial output have decreased the country’s normally sky-high carbon emissions by at least a quarter, according to an analysis recently published in CarbonBrief by Lauri Myllyvirta, an analyst at the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air. That drop translates to a 6 percent decline in overall global emissions. New research from China’s statistics bureau shows that the country’s factory activity suffered the deepest contraction on record last month.

A decline in air travel might be playing a supporting role. By mid-February, around 13,000 flights a day had been canceled, with many airlines suspending flights to and from mainland China. Aviation remains one of the most carbon-intensive activities, accounting for 2 percent of emissions worldwide.

But how should we think about something as objectively terrible as the coronavirus — which has left more than 3,000 people dead — temporarily slowing climate change?

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