The Irish Times view on global warming: There can be no return to normal

Failure to incorporate a green recovery at the heart of the global response to Covid-19 risks lengthening the economic shock

Satellite images have been providing colour-coded animations of air-pollution decline across the world coinciding with the spread of Covid-19 and billions of people going into lockdown. Noxious gases associated with traffic and heavy industry have declined sharply. The skies have never been clearer. Eased of the shackles of human activity, it is as if Planet Earth has been allowed breathe normally again.

Air pollution effects are obvious; reduction in carbon emissions less so because of how they are audited. But indications suggest global CO2 will be cut by 5 per cent this year – more than during any previous economic crisis or period of war.

Governments and world leaders are preoccupied with only one crisis right now; how to get their economies re-started where there is a risk of a global depression. Failure to incorporate a green recovery at the heart of the global response risks lengthening the economic shock. Moreover, climate disruption in the form of extreme weather events may compound difficulties. What if Hurricane Ophelia were to hit Ireland tomorrow with a three-metre storm surge?

The world was not in a good place before all this. It had a decade to avoid irreversible impacts caused by global heating, yet the most recent UN climate talks ended in fiasco as major economies fell far short of the action required. The blinkered stance of US president Donald Trump continues to embolden others – part of his haphazard response to Covid-19 is to rescue the oil and gas industry without imposing conditions on them.


Covid-19 comes with immense social and human costs even if its effect is only temporary. But the climate crisis has already caused more deaths than the worst predictions for coronavirus and is probably permanent. For many, climate disruption is a vague threat that may affect future generations, although in Ireland there has never been greater support for decisive climate action. The “green mission” in the Fine Gael-Fianna Fáil framework document for a new government fails to build sufficiently on that in tangible commitments, although it endorses the European Green Deal and carbon neutrality by 2050.

The parties’ credibility could be immediately enhanced by declaring, in the context of Covid-19, that any stimulus packages will be directed towards renewable energy and zero- or low-carbon infrastructure and transport – and pushing for an overdue aviation tax at EU level. Despite Covid-19 being an insidious enemy, the response to it has shown what rapid collective global action can achieve. If there is a “dash for growth”, however, in the absence of better protection of human welfare, embracing sustainability and restoring a biosphere under intolerable strain, Ireland faces a great depression. Desperation cannot be allowed to result in the parking of progressive climate measures. There can be no “return to normal”.