The economic collapse that has come as an unappetizing side dish of the coronavirus outbreak, has positively taken out a huge chunk of global GHG emissions.
According to a recent analysis from the UK-based research outfit Carbon Brief, it could result in the largest one year drop in emissions since recorded history.
The drop accounts to about 2,000 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide. Amazingly, this equals to nearly 6% of 2019’s carbon footprint. Before the outbreak, emissions were estimated to increase a further 1%, so this reversal is astounding.
However, a stark reality undermines this brief spell of hope for our future. If we sustained these emissions reduction on this huge scale, it still wouldn’t be enough to limit global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. Those who know, this is the goal set by the Paris Agreement in 2015.
2020 holds a chance to start fresh, we need to drop our carbon emissions by 7.6% every year for the next decade. We are already at 5.5% so in theory, this could be seen as a boost and leverage to keep this up for the next 9 years. – According to the UN.
With everything that is shut around the world from factories and construction sites, to grounded airplanes and parked cars, (not to mention the drop in oil demand) – isn’t enough to get us on track? Well, being the short-sited society we have become, it actually is.
The Carbon Brief found that during the peak of it’s shutdown a few weeks ago, China’s emissions dropped 25%. India’s emissions is set to fall 30% by the end of this month.
However, but indeed hopefully, when the global lockdown begins to relax in the coming month or two, emissions are likely to jump straight back to normal. We have essentially just hit the pause button. But if we are smart (to which sometimes I question we are as a species), we can use this as an opportunity to rebuild the economy in an environmentally friendly manor.
Simon Evans, a biochemist and Carbon Brief’s deputy editor, said, “The current situation is a terrible model for getting on track for 1.5C,” he said. “Fundamentally nothing has changed. Once people get back in their cars, it’s the same cars. We just hit pause, but reaching any climate goal requires structural shifts.”
Reaching the goal of 1.5C is quite a challenge for society to work together, thankfully, scientists have devised many pathways of reaching the goal.
However, there are still many different pathways to be figured out between now and 2050, all with their own advantages and cons.
These pathways are all explored in detail in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2018 (IPCC) special report on 1.5C. Unfortunately, this report displayed very low odds in reaching our target, quite worrisome as a matter of fact.
The San Francisco-based nonprofit Drawdown Project also has a useful guide. But they all boil down to a few key steps to eliminate our use of fossil fuels:
- Make the electric grid work on 100% renewable energy.
- Make cars and everything else that consumes fossil fuels run on electricity instead—and use less of it.
- Deploy high-tech fixes for things that are hard to run on electricity with current technology, like airplanes, and to remove CO2 that’s already in our atmosphere
- Reduce emissions from agriculture by using resources, including land, more efficiently.
However, with the current travel and social restriction, these temporary laws will not do much to advance these goals. Although, Evans highlighted, there are few climate activists who think making millions of people suffer extreme economic and medical hardship is the best way forward.
If we were to take anything from this economic crash, the lockdown has had a detrimental affect to the clean energy industry. It very much depends on the regulations put in place by the government after the pandemic, emissions could grow even faster than before.
Credit: Tim McDonnell – Quartz