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Coronavirus has slashed global emissions. Can it last?

An empty highway in southern Italy.
REUTERS/Alessandro Garofalo
The road ahead is not quite as clear.
  • Michael J. Coren
By Michael J. Coren

Climate and emerging industries editor


For the first time, a pandemic has brought many of the world’s major economies to a virtual standstill. Supply chains have been disrupted and the free movement of people restricted. No one knows how long this will last, or how severe a blow it will land on the global economy. 

But when the dust clears, the air will be clearer. One of the most striking effects of the global spread of Covid-19 has been the reduction in pollution from nitrogen dioxide and carbon dioxide. Millions of people around the world have virtually stopped traveling by car, airplane, or even leaving their homes. Factories are shut down. Manufacturing is grinding to a halt. Personal and professional lives are moving online as social distancing becomes required from Seoul to San Francisco.

That is already having a profound effect on global emissions. In the urban sprawl of southern California, never known for its fresh air, rush hour air quality is “good.” 

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