According to new research, carbon dioxide emissions must fall by the equivalent of a global COVID-19-style lockdown every two years for the next decade for the world to meet the Paris Agreement targets and stay within the “safe” limits of global warming.
What is Happening?
- According to a new study published in the journal Nature, lockdowns around the world led to a record fall in emissions of about 7% in 2020- 2.6 billion metric tons of CO2- but reductions of between 1 and 2 billion metric tons are needed every years this decade to keep temperature rise to within 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. It is likely that this year, emissions will rise again to above 2019 levels.
- The study also shows that many of the world’s major economies were reducing their emissions before the pandemic. According to The Global Carbon Project, 64 countries had cut their emissions between 2016 and 2019 compared with 2011 and 2015, but 150 countries showed an increase in emissions in the latter period. This was particularly the case in lower-income countries.
- The annual rate of emissions cuts must increase tenfold from 160 million metric tons a year in high-income countries before the pandemic struck.
- Corinne Le Quéré, lead author of the study, says that governments need to prioritise climate action in their post-COVID-19 recovery plans, saying, “ “We have failed to understand in the past that we can’t have tackling climate change as a side issue. It can’t be about one law or policy, it has to be put at the heart of all policy. Every strategy and every plan from every government must be consistent with tackling climate change.”
- Countries need to work urgently towards ending their reliance on fossil fuels. Le Quéré says “There is a real contradiction between what governments are saying they are doing to do [to generate a green recovery], and what they are doing. That is very worrisome.”
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- Glen Peters of the Center for International and Environmental Research (CICERO) in Norway and co-author of the paper, echoes this view, saying, “Emissions were lower in 2020 as fossil fuel infrastructure was used less, not because infrastructure was closed down. When fossil fuel infrastructure is put into use again, there is a risk of a big rebound in emissions in 2021, as was seen in the wake of the global financial crisis in 2009.”
- Despite this troubling finding, data from the International Energy Agency shows that there are reasons to be hopeful. China has set a carbon-neutrality target; the new US administration has rejoined the Paris Agreement and is putting climate at the heart of its policy-making; the EU is pushing ahead with its Green Deal and sustainable recovery plans; India’s success with renewables could transform its energy future and the UK is building global momentum toward stronger climate action at COP26 in November.