Post Covid-19: Can We Build Back Greener?

Post Covid-19: Can We Build Back Greener?

Covid-19 has had a devastating impact on businesses, jobs, health and society. But one impact that’s more difficult to quantify is the impact on the environment. Initially, lockdown coupled with the world’s industry grinding to a halt resulted in significant reductions in carbon emissions and pollution, especially in countries such as China and Iran.

Nevertheless, as soon as possible these industries were back to emitting emissions, with many experts voicing concerns they’d be at a higher rate than prior to lock down in order to make up for lost revenue during lockdown.

The Government in the UK has announced that businesses are set to benefit from £134 million investment, enabling ground-breaking clean growth projects, developing new technologies and securing new jobs. Could this recent announcement ensure that in the UK at least, we build back greener and make larger steps to a renewable future?

Among the businesses set to benefit are projects to service offshore wind turbines autonomously, using artificial intelligence to reduce beer waste in the brewing process and converting seaweed into compostable packaging to tackle plastic waste.

The aftermath of the first major lockdown proved that we as humans can make a difference. Maps using data collected from NASA and European Space Agency satellites show how nitrogen dioxide, a dangerous gas released by burning fuel, has dissipated since the outbreak. “This is the first time I have seen such a dramatic drop-off over such a wide area for a specific event,” Fei Liu, an air quality researcher at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre, said in a statement. Similarly, in Venice again thanks to initial lockdown measures the canals became the cleanest they have been in 60 years, and dolphins were spotted swimming in clearer water. 

This drop-in air pollution and carbon emissions is likely to disappear as Chinese industry ramps up again in an attempt to offset its economic losses. A pattern that has already been witnessed before, after the global financial crisis of 2008 emissions saw rapid growth especially in global carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel combustion reaching a record high of 9.1GtC1 in 2010. Additionally, unfortunately, many of the world’s largest solar panel, battery and wind turbine manufacturers are located in China, and the country’s COVID-19-related lockdowns and travel restrictions are likely to have disrupted supply chains, delayed delivery of key components and potentially increased costs, discouraging many businesses from building back green. However, if industry across the world is in a rush to get back to maximum capacity this downturn should only be temporary and hopefully marginal.

The concept of ‘build back green’ is one that many companies and even individuals are happy to back. Since the announcement over 1,069 ground-breaking clean growth projects have requested funding. One such business is marine company Rovco in Bristol, which is developing unique technology allowing for autonomous underwater inspections of large offshore wind turbines. This will be crucial in assisting human operators carry out effective maintenance of one of the UK’s cleanest, renewable energy sources, which can often be dangerous, while ensuring it is carried out in accordance with social distancing measures.

However, with this new £134 million investment this represents the opportunity to move forward to a greener future. If the production of solar panels is to be affected it is important for each country to find new ways to support green innovation. It is only through governmental encouragement that we will succeed.

Back in April we speculated that this crisis also presented an opportunity to learn, examining the positive impacts that were being made throughout lockdown and ultimately the lessons that we could carry forward once the crisis is over. Perhaps we might now see a new wave of positive environmental initiatives that make a marked and sustainable impact in our quest for a greener future.