Friday, June 12, 2020

No green lining for pandemic recovery

Carbon dioxide emissions have rebounded around the world as lockdown conditions have eased, raising fears that annual emissions of greenhouse gases could surge to higher than ever levels after the coronavirus pandemic.

Emissions fell by a quarter when the lockdowns were at their peak, and in early April global daily carbon dioxide emissions were still down by 17% compared with the average figure for 2019, research published last month in the journal Nature Climate Change found. Now daily carbon emissions are still down on 2019 levels, but by only 5% on average globally, according to an updated study
“Things have happened very fast,” said Corinne Le Quéré, a professor of climate change at the University of East Anglia and the lead author of the studies. “Very few countries still have stringent confinement. We expected emissions to come back, but that they have done so rapidly is the biggest surprise.”
Emissions for the year to date, from 1 January to 11 June, are 8.6% lower than in the same period for 2019, and emissions for the whole of this year are likely to be between 4% and 7% lower than for the whole of last year. That is not enough to make a significant contribution to the cuts in emissions needed to fulfil the Paris agreement on climate change, which will require structural changes to transport systems and how energy is generated. In the UK, emissions had fallen by 31% in early April, when the lockdown was at its most restrictive. But this week daily emissions were found to be 23% lower than last year’s levels. The reduction is likely to shrink further as the lockdown is loosened.

Most of the fall and subsequent rebound has come from road transport. Deserted streets and empty motorways swiftly became the norm during lockdown, as people were ordered to stay at home except for emergencies.
“Road transport is the most responsive sector,” said Le Quéré. “Emissions from transport were always going to go back up, but government responses have not been as fast as I would have liked [to make changes to people’s driving habits]. It would be terrible if we carry on going back to normal. It would be a disaster.”
While emissions overall are still down on last year, there are fears that as lockdowns around the world ease further in the coming months, carbon from cars could surge to levels higher than before the pandemic as people avoid public transport.
“What we may now see are emissions that exceed pre-pandemic levels, if for instance more people start using private instead of public transport due to health concerns,” said Bob Ward, a policy director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change at the London School of Economics. “Any economic recovery packages designed to help economies fully rebound need to focus on zero-carbon climate resilient investments that address unemployment but avoid locking us into a new high-carbon future.”

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