Draconian coronavirus lockdowns across the world have led to sharp reductions in carbon emissions, but this will have a “negligible” impact on the climate crisis, with global warming reduced by just 0.01 ° C by 2030, according to a study.
But the analysis also shows that putting huge sums of post-Covid-19 government funding into a green recovery and avoiding fossil fuels will give the world a good chance of keeping the rise in global temperatures below 1.5 ° C. Scientists have said that we are now at a crossroads to stay below the limit – relative to pre-industrial levels – agreed to by governments around the world to avoid the worst effects of global warming.
The research is primarily based on newly available Google and Apple mobility data. This gives near real-time information on modes of travel and work and therefore gives an idea of the level of emissions. The data covered 123 countries which together are responsible for 99% of fossil fuel emissions. Researchers have found that global CO2 emissions decreased by more than 25% in April 2020, and nitrogen oxides (NOX) of 30%.
Questions and answers
Which countries are contributing the most to the climate crisis?
China produces the most trapping heat pollution, followed by the United States. But historically, the United States has contributed more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere than any other country. The United States also has high per capita emissions, compared to other developed countries. And Americans buy products made in China, thus supporting China’s carbon footprint.
These drops show that rapid changes in people’s behavior can make big differences in emissions in the short term, but scientists have said such lockdowns are impossible to maintain. Therefore, economy-wide changes are needed to move to a zero-emission economy, such as greening transport, buildings and industry with renewables, hydrogen or capturing and burying CO.2.
“The direct effect of the pandemic [lockdown] will be negligible, ”said the researchers, whose analysis was conducted by Professor Piers Forster of the University of Leeds. “On the other hand, with an economic recovery geared towards a green stimulus and reduced investment in fossil fuels, it is possible to avoid a future warming of 0.3 ° C by 2050.”
The global average temperature in 2019 was 1.1 ° C above the long-term average and even with current promises of emission reductions, a further increase of 0.6 ° C is expected by 2050. ” It is now decisive for the 1.5 ° C target, ”said Forster. . “This is a unique opportunity to really change the direction of the company. We don’t have to go back to where we were, for times of crisis are also the time to change. “
Professor Keith Shine, from the University of Reading, not part of the study team, said: “It is deeply impressive to get such a near real-time analysis of climate impact. [of the lockdowns]. »
Shine said that a green recovery from the pandemic was essential to meet the Paris climate agreement target: “The study shows that, because CO2 is so persistent in the atmosphere that short-term emission reductions resulting directly from pandemic lockdowns lead to undetectable reductions in warming. It is only through sustained and radical changes in the use of fossil fuels that we can hope to meet Paris. [climate agreement] target. “
The analysis, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, used mobility data from Google and Apple to track the location of individuals. This was used to assess changes in the levels of transport and work in offices and factories, and then the emissions of 10 different greenhouse gases and air pollutants.
These estimates corresponded to the measurements available for certain gases, such as nitrogen oxides, pollutants mainly emitted by diesel vehicles. The team assumed that significant restrictions on activities caused by Covid-19 remained in place until the end of 2021. However, using computer models, the team showed that this would produce only a tiny reduction. long-term global warming.
Scientists also looked at recovery scenarios. If the recovery reflects investments made after the 2008 financial crisis – which included major support for fossil fuels – the global temperature will rise by more than 1.5 ° C by 2050, which scientists say will cause damage. extended across the world.
However, a strong green recovery that invests 1.2% of global GDP in low-carbon technologies – more than $ 1 billion (£ 760 billion) – and fails to support the bailout of fossil fuel companies is likely to reduce warming by 0.3 ° C, scientists say.
Forster said the recovery investments made today support both green technologies and fossil fuels. “It always goes both ways. But it’s important to try to avoid every warming, so if we don’t keep the rise at 1.5 ° C, it’s still worth getting to zero carbon as quickly as possible.
Dr Jaise Kuriakose, from the University of Manchester and not involved in the study, said people’s activities had changed in ways previously unthinkable, with a plane stopping and a switch to virtual meetings.
“These suggest that there is a public will for behavioral changes towards a more sustainable, low carbon lifestyle,” he said. ” [But] to take advantage of this, structural changes and new policies are essential. Without a green recovery, it is even difficult to meet the UK government’s net zero target by 2050, let alone the ambitious Paris Agreement.