Another month on and the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic continues to dominate headlines around the world. Here in Western Europe at least, there appears to be some light at the end of the tunnel – numbers of new confirmed cases are generally stabilising (or even declining) as stringent lockdown measures take effect.
Indeed, lockdown measures have had such a dramatic impact on the daily lives of so many of us that serious questions are being raised about when things will eventually return to normal. In many countries, social distancing policies are likely to remain in place (at least in part) until a cure to the virus is found. With no vaccine expected until 2021 at the earliest, that could mean many months with continued restrictions on travel, social gatherings, and other aspects of our daily lives that were once taken for granted.
This has to be managed carefully, however. Aside from the already obvious economic damage that these policies have caused, continued restrictions on freedoms will inevitably breed discontent – even in Germany, poster child for an otherwise successful response to the virus, there have been gatherings and protests over the continued lockdown. In the last few days, France, Italy, and Spain have all announced tentative proposals to relax lockdown restrictions, with schools and some businesses being gradually reopened over the course of the year.
And then there is the question of whether things should return to normal. CO2 emissions from China dropped by 25% at the peak of the country’s response to the pandemic and have still yet to return to normal levels; Carbon Brief estimates that the pandemic will have resulted in a CO2 emissions reduction of roughly 2000 million t, some 5.5% of 2019’s total global output and the lowest ever decline in emissions, including periods of conflict or other economic crises. Demand for energy in the UK has declined by 20% compared to the same period in 2019, allowing the country to run for 18 consecutive days without a single Kilowatt produced by coal power – the longest period since the industrial revolution. Wildlife across many countries has also benefited from reduced human activity – with species no longer having to compete with traffic or people impacting their habitats.
Rest assured, I’m not advocating that we throw away the benefits of industrialised civilisation and return to the wilderness to live as our distant ancestors once did, but in addition to highlighting the fragility of modern society, the pandemic has also shone a light on the impact that humanity has on the natural world. We have been presented with an unexpected opportunity to think about how we want the future to be.
If you’d like to hear from industry experts on how cement plants can reduce their environmental impact through the latest technologies and best practices, make sure to attend EnviroTech 2020, an international online conference taking place on 14 July. Register to attend at: www.worldcement.com/envirotech2020