EGL Webinar Summary: Has the Pandemic Disrupted Carbon Lock-in?

Recap: Has the pandemic disrupted carbon lock-in?

The pandemic has made evident in dramatic detail the impact of pre-existing fragility, inequality and injustice. Therefore, going back to a previous “normal” is not a viable option: “a just transition, improving equity, justice, and anti-racism are the only viable pathways for our societies.” This September 22nd conversation included three excellent speakers and was moderated by Matthew Hoffmann, co-Director of EGL and Professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto.



Piers Forster, Professor of Climate Physics at the University of Leeds.

Samantha Gross, Director of Energy Security and Climate Initiative at Brookings.

Jonas Nahm, Assistant Professor of Energy, Resources, and Environment at Johns Hopkins University.

To watch the full webinar, click on the link here


Overview of the event:

Early optimism that the pandemic lockdowns would significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions and disrupt the world’s reliance on fossil energy has started to fade. The panelists discussed what impacts the pandemic has had on carbon lock-in, what exactly has and has not changed, and whether these changes are likely to endure.

Matthew Hoffmann began by asking how the world can accelerate climate action for decarbonization amidst an economic and health crisis?

Piers Forster discussed transition opportunities for the post-pandemic world and provided an analysis of 125 different countries that have showcased 14% emissions reductions in April. This figure is below what these countries showed in 2019. Forster further shared how governments, corporations, and the public are slowly pushing towards change, such as the airplane industry aiming for commercial zero-emission planes by 2025.

Next, Samantha Gross discussed the pandemic’s impact on jobs, stating that the nature of the economic slowdown reveals a rather unjust transition. Issues of equity come to light when we consider that these reductions in our carbon economy result from a slowdown in economic activity that has disproportionately hurt marginalized people at the bottom of the ladder. Overall, Gross concluded that short-term problems create difficulty in long-term thinking, and therefore, plans for climate action will be a bit more difficult. Gross urges us to continue to have our governments push for climate action, such as the European Green New Deal.

Lastly, Jonas Nahm put forth three reasons why we are not disrupting anything at the moment and why we may be missing the current opportunity. Nahm’s presentation shared how actual emissions reductions are smaller than public perceptions and are ultimately temporary. Nahm shared concerns on a potentially small green stimulus and COVID-19’s impact on undermining globalization, which can be crucial for new industries that thrive on global supply chains (i.e., renewables).

Various audience questions followed the panel discussion, unlocking further discussions regarding equity, systemic change, domestic politics, and the international political economy.