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COVID-19 caused the biggest drop in carbon emissions ever – how can we make it last? Podcast

A row of aeroplanes on the tarmac with mountain behind.
Grounded. heychli via Shutterstock

In this episode of The Conversation Weekly podcast, we investigate the effect coronavirus lockdowns had on global carbon emissions and ask what this means for the fight against climate change as governments turn their focus on the recovery. And we hear how the pandemic exacerbated the hardships faced by migrant workers in Canada.

When much of the world went into lockdown in March 2020, there was an unprecedented drop in carbon dioxide emissions. In this episode, one of a team tracking the impact of COVID-19 on global emissions, Corinne Le Quéré, professor of climate change science at the University of East Anglia, tells us they dropped 7% in 2020 – by 2.6 billion tonnes. Le Quéré explains this drop is “the biggest we’ve ever seen” but that everything is relative. “It still means we’re emitting 34 billion tonnes of CO2,” she says.

Read more: We've made progress to curb global emissions. But it's a fraction of what's needed

She explains which countries were starting to reduce their global carbon emissions before the pandemic hit and puts 2020 into perspective of what’s still needed to keep global warming down below 2°C. Le Quéré urges that the type of economic stimulus packages countries choose to implement now will be critical for the world’s climate change future. “You can see with these numbers that to tackle climate change, you need large scale actions,” she says. “You need people involved. You need to have something that is coordinated, that governments and society want to do to move forward. We can make a huge difference.”

And we talk to Steve Westlake, a PhD candidate at Cardiff University, about his research into what influences our behaviour when it comes to reducing carbon emissions – and why he thinks individual actions still matter.

We’re also joined in this episode by The Conversation’s Vinita Srivastava, host of Don’t Call Me Resilient, a new podcast about race. She introduces a conversation she had with Min Sook Lee, assistant professor in documentary film at OCAD University in Toronto, on the harsh conditions, isolation and precarious working conditions faced by migrant farmworkers in Canada. What Lee has to say about the treatment of these workers during COVID-19, and the historic racism of the country’s temporary workers programmes shatters any remaining myths about what she calls “this rosy postcard of Canada as a country that invites diversity from people all over the world”.

And Wale Fatade from The Conversation in Lagos, Nigeria, gives us some recommended reading.

The Conversation Weekly is produced by Mend Mariwany and Gemma Ware, with sound design by Eloise Stevens. Our theme music is by Neeta Sarl. You can find us on Twitter @TC_Audio or on Instagram at theconversationdotcom. We’d love to hear what you think of the show too. You can email us on

A transcript of this episode is available here.

News clips in this episode are from Al Jazeera, Huffington Post, CBS News, CBC News, DW News and CNA.

You can listen to The Conversation Weekly via any of the apps listed above, our RSS feed, or find out how else to listen here.

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