China’s initial response to the coronavirus outbreak, including quarantining millions of families, shutting down transportation and idling factories, has already reduced carbon dioxide emissions by at least 100 million tons.
This is more than the UK produces in six months and more than Greece spews out in an entire year.
A lowering of emissions would ordinarily be welcomed by those seeking to meet the terms of the Paris climate accord.
But economists pointed out that the virus response could inhibit the long-term transition to a low-carbon economy—pointing to the potential for Chinese government stimulus.
Many remember that global carbon emissions also dropped in the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis, falling 1.3% in 2009.
Yet within a year, these gains had largely been undone, and Beijing’s RMB¥ 4 trillion (US$586 billion) stimulus package was a big contributor.
This year, the Chinese government has so far resisted launching a similar stimulus package to combat the mounting economic fallout of the outbreak.
Instead, it is releasing ad hoc measures such as extending credit to struggling small businesses.