BLOG: Lockdown had ‘little-to-no’ Effect on Global Temperatures

Why lockdown had ‘little-to-no’ effect on global temperatures and how we can stay engaged in the midst of the crisis

4 minute read

For all of us, this pandemic had a profound impact on our lives. For some of us, it meant a pause and time for reflection. People discovered their natural surroundings, found out who their neighbours were, discovered natural spaces around the corner and started planting vegetables, maybe even for the first time. The non-human world appeared to enjoy the pause too, with birds returning to the less polluted areas of our cities and birdsong being the soundtrack to our lives as the spring of 2020 unfolded

Normally bustling with people, only the occasional passing tram can be heard at St Peter’s Square

As well as ethnic minorities being disproportionately effected by the COVID-19 virus, further inequalities have been exposed across the UK this past year. According to the National Trust, areas where over 40% of the residents were from an ethnic minority background were 11 times less likely to have access to public green space than in areas where residents are predominantly white. These areas typically recorded higher levels of air pollution and fewer opportunities to buy or grow organic food too. 

For climate scientists, there was a small window of hope that the pandemic might lead to a collective reflection in the way we live, consume, and interact with our natural environment. This, so they hopedmight lead to the decline in greenhouse gas emissions so desperately needed 

Global Emissions

If we look closer, we see that COVID-19 and global warming are two sides of the same coin. Continuous, reckless exploitation of natural resources have led to a tragic demise in biodiversity and natural resilience, negatively affecting the earth’s capacity to cope with unforeseeable events. Like climate change, scientists have argued for many years that if we continue to squeeze every ounce of this planet for the sake of maximum profit, an epidemic of this scale will happen.   

While it was true that emissions plummeted in the first months of the pandemic, it quickly became the main agenda of Governments across the world to get levels of activity and productivity back to normal. Whilst emissions have declined by 13% in the UK in 2020 compared to 2019 levels, in China levels were already back to pre-pandemic levels by May 2020. Globally, greenhouse gas emissions did decline by around 7% in 2020. 

Globally, emissions remain forecasted to grow in the coming years rather than decline. To stay below 2 global warming, a reduction of emissions by 10% every year is necessary to avoid a global catastrophe. So, from a straight statistical point of view, we see that even with the whole world on pause for several months, it’s still not nearly enough to stop global warming. That gives us a sense of the scope we are dealing with.   

Community planting

Groundwork is putting young environmental activists at the forefront of youth social action projects that will benefit schools and communities across England.

Collective Support 

But despite the effect of the pandemic not being as much of a positive effect for climate change than we had first hoped, something else positive happenedall across the globe, profound and in-part positive reactions to this pandemic emerged. Wages were subsidised, unemployment benefits were increased as government’s across the globe sought to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 through unprecedented economic and social intervention, irrespective of political ideology. 

Young people supported elderly with their daily lives, community groups formed and cared for the vulnerable, councils provided housing for the homeless and help for the helpless. We switched to being online, working from home, socialising with social distance, and even arguing, in just a couple of days. Our society came together in new and creative ways, and many of us changed from an “I” to a “we”. 

Man harvesting vegetables in a community garden

84% of community groups felt that they could play a role in rebuilding and recovery after the pandemic. Read the full Groundwork report ‘Community Groups In A Crisis’ here.

What climate change demands is nothing less than a profound transformation of our society on all levels. It will change the way we eat, sleep, travel and work. We have a very small window of time left, to avoid these changes being forced on us by disaster, but rather we can make these changes by design. The will is already here: a staggering 48% of the public thinks that the government should respond “with the same urgency to climate change as it has with COVID-19″.

Throughout the pandemic Groundwork Greater Manchester has continued to deliver sustainable projects which help the city region Build Back Better. More recently, putting young environmental activists at the forefront of youth social action projects that will benefit schools and communities. Having received funding from The Ernest Cook Trust, we can enable young people to lead the way as ‘Green Influencers’, working together they will turn words into action with a wide range of measures to protect and enhance the local environment and tackle climate change.


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