After the Pandemic: is there hope for the world to get serious about climate change?

After the Pandemic: is there hope for the world to get serious about climate change? After the Pandemic: is there hope for the world to get serious about climate change?

May 14, 20202 min read

Now that industries that once pushed out carbon and pollution have been shuttered and emissions have finally lowered, what changes can we expect from energy sectors? David G. Victor, UC San Diego professor and internationally renowned expert on global emissions and climate change policies, recently noted in this piece for the Brookings Institution that the energy industry will come back, but it will likely look a lot different.

“Pecking orders will change a lot. In oil, American shale suppliers will be hammered while the core of OPEC (Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi, plus perhaps Russia) will have more control — but at a huge fiscal cost. In electricity, reliable firms will remain on top. Consolidation of weak into stronger, bigger firms is likely across the industry.”

While energy markets try to stabilize during the economic freefall COVID-19 has caused, the atmosphere is catching its breath. Global emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), the chief long-term cause of climate warming, have slid perhaps by one-fifth. Of course, this greenery has come at a huge, unacceptable cost. 

And though shock of the novel coronavirus may be expected to catalyze serious solutions to the global problem of climate change, prospects appear bleak, according to Victor. His outlook is formed by analysis of historical patterns of emissions, economic downturns and roadblocks to international cooperation. 

“Just by looking around today—with everyone stuck at home for the moment and holding meetings on Zoom—it is easy to envision a future with a lot less travel,” Victor wrote in this Foreign Affairs piece. “But history suggests that when incomes start growing again and the constraint of locality is lifted then people will spend, again, on mobility. The higher the incomes, the more the money—and the more the emissions, at least historically.”

In a recent article for Foreign Affairs, Victor also outlines what has grown more evident amid pandemic surrounding the topic of climate change: 

"Serious international action on climate change will not arise from some grand 'Kumbaya' moment, in which leaders around the world come together because the novel coronavirus has forced them to shed the scales from their eyes and realize the value of science and cooperation. Rather, the countries that have the wherewithal to steer and rebuild their economies through this crisis will be the ones to lead the coming efforts at environmental reform. They must use their skills wisely to meet a challenge that will not have disappeared.

If you’re a journalist covering how COVID-19 is impacting international efforts on climate change – then let us help.

David Victor is a professor of international relations at UC San Diego who co-chairs the Cross-Brookings Initiative on Energy and Climate and UC San Diego’s Deep Decarbonization Initiative. He can speak to reporters’ energy market forecasts and on how climate change efforts are impacted by the COVID-19 public health crisis. Simply click on the icon below to arrange an interview.

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  • David Victor
    David Victor Professor of International Relations; Co-director, Laboratory on International Law and Regulation

    David Victor's research focuses on highly regulated industries and how regulation affects the operation of major energy markets.

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