Corona pandemic has proven the power of systemic changes in fighting climate change

Read the content of the first sustainable development x corona discussion here!

The first sustainable development x Corona discussion focused on the effect corona pandemic has on climate and fighting climate change. The guests of the first event were atmosphere physicist Jussi Malila, who also coordinates the Climate University project in the University of Oulu and Mira Hulkkonen, who is now working on a doctoral research bridging atmospheric modelling with AI-based simulation of people.

Climate University is a joint project of 11 universities, funded by the Finnish ministry of education and culture. This project develops online study materials related to climate change and sustainable development. Climate now course has already been organized by the project and next fall we will see courses on climate communication and sustainable sciences. The consortium will create a number of courses equal to minor subject.

Let’s get to the discussion itself:

Why is it ok to be worried about climate crisis now when we have a global pandemic in our hands?

– The climate change is not going anywhere, even though there is an ongoing pandemic. It is totally ok if not necessary to focus on climate change now. We cannot afford to lose a year in fighting the climate change. Global solutions for climate change are required now the same way as for corona.

How the restrictions have affected climate goals and emissions?

– The reduction of economic activity and travelling has had a major effect on climate. Corona pandemic may reduce the amount of CO2 emissions by 2 megatons in a year. This reduction of emissions is greater than any previous reduction in human history. Corona has reduced the amount of emissions even more than second world war. Of course, we need to take in consideration that the total amount of emissions has never been higher than in the beginning of corona pandemic.

What should we now do in order to reach the climate goals?

– A very important question right now is, how this economic recovery will be carried out. The future of our climate is affected greatly by the decisions concerning which industries the economic stimulus will be targeted to. This situation is also great for waking individuals to think about what is meaningful and valuable in their lives and evaluate their consumer behaviour.

One very concrete question to us is how we will take advantage on this possibility for change. Now for example everyone has got used to online meetings. Do we really have to fly to every meeting after this is over?

Often major global crises have reduced the amount of emissions but until now the total amount of emissions and the carbon intensity of these emissions has increased drastically when bouncing back from the crisis. This change requires a deeper, more systematic change in the society.

Usually a change in the behaviour requires a change in the context of this behaviour. This time may offer this change in the context and help people to change their behaviour.

For example, in China, the total amount of deaths is decreasing since there has been great reduction in deaths caused by air pollution. Globally, air pollution such as particulate matter and nitric oxide cause millions of deaths annually. The increase in air quality rewards climate actions quite rapidly by decreasing the amount of premature deaths. Now we can already see the change in the kind of pollution that stays in the atmosphere only for a short period of time.

In China alone, 77 000 deaths caused by air pollution were avoided during these two months of quarantine.

What kind of effect will this pandemic have on climate research?

– There has been changes already. Mira is working on an analysis related to the topic at hand, and she will include the year 2020 in her study, even though the original data covered a time period only until the end of 2018.

This situation gives a good example of what kind of immediate affects can climate actions have and there will be lots of research conducted on this unique time period.

How can the University of Oulu be a part of the solution?

– Solving the climate crisis should be an inclusive topic covered in every field. Effects on climate should be taken in consideration in all decision-making. This wide-ranging systemic change must be very multidisciplinary.

How does a climate researcher copy with climate anxiety?

– We always don’t. The climate conversation is everywhere. It is hard to do anything without running into climate issues and because of that it might be hard to detach from work.


You can follow climate researchers in social media by following the accounts @OuluBeamTeam and @Climamira in Twitter and Facebook.

The next discussion on sustainable development and corona will be held on the 29th of April at 1 PM in Virtual Tellus.


Last updated: 23.4.2020