Could Covid-19 changes set Island on greener path?

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Transport, mainly traffic on the Island’s roads, is responsible for 51% of CO2-equivalent emissions produced here. That figure has plummeted due to school closures and changes that have seen thousands of Islanders working from home.

Elsewhere, cycle shops are reporting a huge increase in sales. Aaron Lapagge, of Aaron’s Bikes on Gloucester Street, said he and his staff were working 12-hour days to keep up with demand as people switched from cars to bikes. The increased interest, it has been suggested, could be down to Islanders trying to make the most of their daily two-hour period of outdoor activity.

Meanwhile, fuel firms are reporting a major drop in trade. One company said sales had fallen by at least 25% in the first week of lockdown.

Dr Louise Magris, the government’s head of sustainability and foresight, said the current situation, although highly unusual and unsustainable, could ‘provide a glimpse of what a different type of future could look like’.

‘Old habits are hard to break – but this experience does show us that we can adapt quickly and make significant changes in response to emergency situations,’ she said.

‘The way people have come together, forming new ways of working and collaborating, will potentially give us a great opportunity to think about how we should work together to achieve carbon neutrality.’

The impact global emissions are having on the local climate was laid bare late last year. Figures from Jersey Met showed the Island’s average temperature had increased by 1.5°C since 1900 and that seven of the top-ten hottest years on record had occurred since 2000. Globally, more extreme weather is being recorded, animals are under threat and habitats are being lost.

The government has committed to achieving carbon neutrality by reducing emissions created in the Island, and from imported energy supplies, and then off-setting the remainder through sequestration schemes around the world.

In February, the principles of the Carbon Neutral Strategy were passed unanimously by the States Assembly. And Infrastructure Minister Kevin Lewis’s heavily-criticised Sustainable Transport Policy was also passed in March. It has been designed with the aim of getting more people out of cars and onto buses and bikes.

Work on both policies is continuing despite the ongoing health and economic crisis.

The latest data from air-quality monitors in Halkett Place showed in the month before lockdown that PM10 – tiny particles found in dust and smoke – in the air ranged between 41.21μg m-3 and 9.16μg m-3 (the concentration of air pollutant per cubic metre of air in micrograms) depending on the day and time. From Tuesday morning to Wednesday afternoon the PM10 reading held steady at about 13 and 14 μg m-3 – regardless of the time of day.

Jersey’s ‘scope one emissions’ – those produced by burning fossil fuels in the Island – will have undoubtedly dropped, although there is no way of measuring by how much, Dr Magris added. A more accurate picture could be obtained when figures for home and road fuel imports and sales come to light, which will give experts an idea of the reduction.

Dr Magris said: ‘We’d all recognise that the current modus operandi does not reflect a carbon-neutral future, as many day-to-day activities are simply not taking place: education, routine health visits, social activities etcetera. Nor does it reflect use of active travel modes such as cycling and walking – these activities are occurring, but for limited windows of exercise rather than commuter travel to work and school.

‘However, some people are able to experience a new way of working, a different relationship with nature and their work-life balance. Many, undoubtedly, will question the status quo going forward. It will be interesting to see how many workers can continue to work from home in some new way in the future. If this way of working becomes more the norm, then we might see a significant drop in peak-time commuting, but only if this is supported by an increase in alternative travel options for school drop-offs and pick-ups.’

She added: ‘If people continue with modified patterns of behaviour, having discovered they can work comfortably and productively from home, and start to enjoy the benefits of more quality time with family members, and are able to pursue new interests that they previously were unable to do, then there may be a long-term impact. If people simply revert to previous habits and patterns of behaviour, then any short-term drop will be completely eliminated by the bounce back.’

With now only one flight operating out of the Island per day, aviation emissions will have dropped dramatically as well. However, as many aircraft are fuelled outside of the Island, their emissions do not count towards Jersey’s total but the jurisdiction where the aircraft takes on fuel.

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