Coronavirus Government Global Briefing: May 4

By Chris Woods

Monday May 4, 2020

Welcome to Coronavirus Government Global Briefing, Mandarin Premium’s morning update on everything in local and global government responses to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Why even a global lockdown isn’t enough to curb global emissions

With roughly 4 billion people under lockdown this year, it might be tempting to believe that as far as silver linings go, the pandemic has put a comparable dent in carbon emissions; see, for example, reports on reduced air pollution clearing visibility around the Himalayas.

But as Scientific American explained last week, new analysis by Carbon Brief forecasts emissions falling by around 5% in 2020, which — while still the greatest annual reduction on record — falls short of the 7.6% figure UN scientists report is needed every year this decade to keep global temperatures from rising above the 1.5 degree threshold.

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Among all forecasts, there’s some around that 5% figure; the International Energy Agency’s 2020 Global Energy Review has the figure closer to 8%, while the Breakthrough Institute predicts that emissions will fall by around 4.8% this year (2.1% to 7.4%) if the pandemic fades over the next few months, and by 7.6% (5% to 10.1%) if it continues or re-emerges later this year.

Source: Breakthrough Institute based on Global Carbon Project and IMF base case GDP forecasts.

Whatever the exact number is, Scientific American’s analysis demonstrates how curtailing individual action — even on a scale of 4 billion — only substantially impacts emissions from air and land transport.

Transport accounts for 20% of global emissions, and, while that’s been enough to tank oil prices, consistent levels of freight and shipping mean even that sector hasn’t completely dried off.

Electricity and natural gas have also been hit to lesser degrees, while manufacturing, at least in China, has remained largely unchanged; as Carbon Briefing notes, the country even recorded a severe smog day during its lockdown.

More significantly, forecasters expect emissions to bounce back in the second half of the year, with even prolonged shutdowns across America unlikely to re-create emissions dips from March and April.

According to Trevor Houser, climate and energy research lead at research firm Rhodium Group, the process only underscores how individual decisions around driving and flying only creates limited emissions reductions.

“The crisis shows how challenging decarbonising the economy purely through behavioural adjustment would be… What we need are technological solutions that allow our economy to operate at 100% with 5%-8% annual reductions going forward.”

That solution, according to director of climate and energy at the Breakthrough Institute Zeke Hausfather, requires creating clean, cheap energy systems in China and India, where “there is not much appetite to sacrifice economic growth for emission reduction.”

On that note, the IEA found that renewables were the most resilient energy source to lockdown measures; while demand for all other energy sources fell across the first quarter of 2020, the global use of renewable energy increased by about 1.5% relative to Q1 2019:

“Renewable electricity generation increased by almost 3%, mainly because of new wind and solar PV projects completed over the past year and because renewables are generally dispatched before other sources of electricity. Along with depressed electricity demand, power grids have managed heightened shares of wind and solar PV. The use of renewable energy in the form of biofuels declined in Q1 2020 as consumption of blended fuels for road transport fell.”

Unsurprisingly, the report also found that shares correlate with demand.

How over-policing created the pandemic’s “other death toll”

In an opinion piece for Al Jazeera, human rights lawyer and researcher at online monitoring project COVID State Watch Eda Seyhan unpacks how global lockdowns have led to police violence — even killings — and the over-policing of marginalised communities.

Some of the worst examples cited by Seyhan include:

  • More people in Nigeria dying at the hands of police enforcing restrictions than from the virus itself;
  • Viral videos of Indian police officers attacking street vendors and forcing migrant workers to hop and crawl along a road;
  • Seven US police officers violently dragging a man from a bus for failing to wear a face mask; and
  • French police tasering a man standing outside his house for allegedly violating harsh lockdown requirements.

Last week, UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet also denounced the use of “excessive and at times lethal force to make people abide by lockdowns and curfews” as well as “shooting, detaining or abusing someone for breaking a curfew because they are desperately searching for food”.

Seyhan also argues that marginalised communities are specifically at risk, due to both pre-existing levels of over-policing as well as specific socio-economic factors involved in lockdowns; for example, low-income “essential workers” and workers who cannot afford to confine themselves at home are by default more vulnerable to social distancing rules.

In an analysis of policing and infection rates in Sydney, The Saturday Paper found suburbs with greater numbers of Indigenous and migrant communities received more compliance fines than affluent counterparts with more confirmed cases.

Elsewhere, the ABC reports that frustrations at a South Australian Aboriginal community boiled over last week when Adnyamathanha elder Malcolm McKenzie was arrested for protesting over restrictions he argued limit access to supermarkets and medical clinics.

As a way of alternative, Seyhan argues that public health officers and public education would be better placed to enforce social- distancing rules holistically, while financial support for homeless and low-income people would help those who may break quarantine out of necessity.

“Police and army officers do not become qualified health workers through the signing of an emergency decree. At a day-to-day level, policing of coronavirus restrictions has been characterised by a lack of social distancing by officers and confusion regarding the rules themselves. Those arrested for violating coronavirus rules are often detained in cramped and unsanitary conditions which only encourage the spread of the virus,” she says.

State wrap

US hits record death rate as states begin to reopen

Finally, according to a WHO situation report, America experienced a record death toll of 2,909 people on Friday, 1 May.

As CNBC reports, separate reporting mechanisms means that figure differs slightly from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but it’s a substantial increase on the WHO’s previous record — 2,471 people on 23 April — and comes as states such as Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas allow non-essential retailers to reopen.

In easily one of the strangest examples, Variety reports that two cinemas in Texas will reopen today with “airport security-style check-in”, to include questions over potential household exposure and infrared temperature screening.

For a complete report on the dozens of states beginning to reopen, see CNN’s state-by-state guide.

For health department updates: Federal, NSW, Victoria, QueenslandACTSouth AustraliaTasmaniaNorthern Territory and Western Australia.

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