Time to choose way forward, Thunberg says on Earth Day

FILE PHOTO: Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg takes part in the rally ''Europe Climate Strike'' in Brussels, Belgium, March 6, 2020. REUTERS/Johanna Geron

Swedish activist Greta Thunberg joined calls for a combined effort to tackle coronavirus and the climate crisis, saying the 50th anniversary of Earth Day on Wednesday was the time to choose a “new way forward”.

Dramatic improvements in air and water quality as coronavirus lockdowns have cut pollution have prompted calls for a low-carbon future, but the need to get millions back to work is clouding the environmental picture.

With economies around the world shut down, wildlife has returned to city streets, with wolves, deer and kangaroos spotted on thoroughfares usually teeming with traffic.

Fish have been seen in Venice canals no longer polluted by motorboats, while residents of some Indian cities have reported seeing the Himalayas for the first time in decades.

Satellite imagery has shown significant air quality improvements across Europe and Asia, including China, where the coronavirus pandemic emerged.

But residents in some of China’s most smog-prone cities said they feared blue skies would not last as the world’s second-biggest economy got back to work.

Thunberg, taking part in a streamed event to mark Earth Day, said action to tackle coronavirus did not mean the climate crisis had gone away.

“We need to tackle two crises at once,” she said.

U.N. chief Antonio Guterres urged governments in an Earth Day message to use their economic responses to the pandemic to tackle the “even deeper emergency” of climate change.

2019 hottest on record

Last year was the hottest on record in Europe, extending a run of exceptionally warm years driven by unprecedented levels of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, according to a study released on Earth Day.

Of Europe’s 12 warmest years on record, 11 have occurred since 2000, the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) said.

The coronavirus pandemic is expected to drive carbon dioxide emissions down 6% this year, the head of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said, in what would be the biggest yearly drop since World War Two.

But that will not stop climate change, the WMO said.

With millions staying home, air quality has improved in China. Shanghai saw emissions fall by nearly 20% in the first quarter, while in Wuhan, where the pandemic originated, monthly averages dropped more than a third.

But experts worry the decline could give China leeway to turn a blind eye to pollution in order to stimulate the economy, which declined for the first time on record in the first quarter.

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