First-of-a-kind study reveals the global socio-economic and environmental impacts of coronavirus

23 July 2020

Two researchers from The University of Queensland (UQ) have contributed to a world-first study that has quantified the global socio-economic and environmental impacts of COVID-19.

The study, led by the University of Sydney found that while greenhouse gases had a larger drop than any in human history, the loss of jobs and wages are experiencing the worse shock since “the Great Depression”.

Tourism researcher Dr Ya-Yen Sun from UQ Business School and Associate Professor Steven Kenway from the Advanced Water Management Centre assisted in determining the impacts of coronavirus on international travel and the environment globally.

The first comprehensive study of the pandemic shows consumption losses amount to more than US$3.8 trillion, triggering full-time equivalent job losses of 147 million and the biggest-ever drop in greenhouse gas emissions.

  • Consumption: US$3.8 trillion (4.2 per cent ~ GDP of Germany)
  • Jobs: 147m (4.2 per cent of the global workforce)
  • Income from wages and salaries: $2.1 trillion (6 per cent)
  • Most directly hit: the US, China (mainland), air transport and related tourism
  • Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions: 2.5Gigatonne (4.6 per cent) – larger than any drop in human history

Dr Sun discovered air transport and tourism are the most impacted sectors economically during the COVID-19 pandemic. Among the total economic losses, 22 per cent of consumption reduction and 24 per cent of employment losses occurred in air transport and tourism.   

Dr Ya-Yen Sun

“Coronavirus has had a devastating impact on the global economy, and from the results, it’s clear that travel and tourism underpin such a large part of that,” said Dr Sun.

The international group of researchers used a global and highly detailed model which identified that the restrictions imposed to prevent the virus spreading caused major disruptions to trade, tourism, energy and finance sectors. However, environmental pressures had dramatically eased in some of the hardest-hit areas, including Asia, Europe and the United States.

Associate Professor Kenway sees the study as not only quantifying the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, but the first-of-its-kind as an integrated plan to recovery.

“It’s encouraging to see the GHG emissions dropped 4.6 per cent, rather than increasing as they have done in the last ten years, “said Dr Kenway.

“This study gives insight to economic recovery pathways which also have low emissions pathways, helping to avoid the same mistakes of previous failures, such as the post-global financial crisis recovery efforts, which did not curb emissions.”

Dr Sun also believes there is a chance to help put sustainability practices in place as air travel and tourism rebuild with government aid.

“Fundamental change is required, an opportunity exists with government bailout programs in the aviation sector to improve energy performance with the replacement of old aircrafts and the use of biofuels in exchange to qualify for a stimulus package.

“This will ensure the aviation sector to move toward a low-carbon pathway,” said Dr Sun.

This international study focuses on ‘live’ data to 22 May*, differing from most assessments of the economic impacts of the pandemic based on scenario analyses and/or projections.

The findings of the full international study are published in the international scientific journal PLOS ONE.

Contact: Business School Communications Manager, Emma Pryor 0421 772 888.

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