The Environmental Impact of the Coronavirus

Across the world, governments have enacted policies to limit the spread of COVID-19. ranging from border closures to total lockdowns. In Canada, the federal government has taken drastic fiscal measures to prevent an economic collapse and is working closely with provinces to prevent transmission of the virus. 

One observed effect of the worldwide lockdowns and slowdown in economic activity has been environmental. While dolphins haven’t quite returned to the canals of Venice, it is true that various environmental measures have improved. Carbon emissions in China were reduced by a quarter over a four-week period, although they will likely rebound in the coming month. 

Since March 25, when provincial authorities ordered the closure of non-essential businesses and recommended these businesses switch to teleworking, there have been massive economic and social disruptions in Montreal. While locations deemed essential have remained open, many white-collar businesses have told employees to work from home. Furthermore, universities were briefly closed and then switched to online classes. 

This economic and social upheaval created by the novel coronavirus has significantly reduced public transit usage in Montreal. The Société de transport de Montréal (STM) unveiled efforts on March 30 to prevent the spread of Coronavirus, and has subsequently reported an 83% decrease in bus ridership and a 90% decrease in metro ridership. The STM hopes that the reduction in ridership will prevent transmission of the virus. 

There appears to have been a drastic reduction in private transit in Montréal. With a decrease of 45-60% in traffic congestion over the week of Mar 29 – Apr 4, according to TomTom traffic tracker


 (Traffic data of Montréal, Mar 29-Apr 4, x-axis represents congestion levels according to TomTom, which is a traffic tracker that uses gps data collection to record road congestion) 

This decrease in private transit could represent a significant reduction of carbon emissions. Historically, private transport has represented a major portion of Canadian emissions, as passenger vehicles accounted for 85.1 megatonnes of CO2 in 2017. Transport as a portion of carbon emissions makes up nearly a quarter of national carbon emissions, with private transport accounting for nearly half of this output. Despite gains in carbon efficiency of Canadian industries over the past 27 years, Candians have increased total carbon emissions. 

Although this decrease in car usage is likely temporary, it may represent an opportunity for policymakers who hope to mitigate global climate change. Many believe that by reducing private transport emissions, Quebec will be able to meet its 2020 goal of reducing emissions by 20%. 

It remains to be seen whether teleworking initiatives begun under emergency measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 will continue, but if they do it may result in a reduction of carbon emissions. It seems that data from China suggests that emission levels will return to pre-lockdown levels. 




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