BFF-42,43,44 Global CO2 emissions to drop 4-7% in 2020, but will it matter?

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Global CO2 emissions to drop 4-7% in 2020, but will it matter?

PARIS, May 19, 2020 (BSS/AFP) – Global CO2 emissions from fossil
fuels are set to drop by up to seven percent in 2020 because of the
coronavirus pandemic, but even this dramatic decline — the sharpest
since WWII — would barely dent longterm global warming, researchers
reported Tuesday.

In early April, coronavirus lockdowns led to a 17 percent reduction
worldwide in carbon pollution compared to the same period last year,
according to the first peer-reviewed assessment of the pandemic’s
impact on CO2 emissions, published in Nature Climate Change.

Four countries or blocs — China, the United States, the European
Union and India — accounted for two-thirds of the downturn across the
first four months of 2020, equivalent to more than one billion tonnes
of CO2.

Total emissions from industry and energy last year came to a record
37 billion tonnes.

“Population confinement has led to drastic changes in energy use
and CO2 emissions,” said lead author Corinne Le Quere, a professor at
the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of
East Anglia.

“These extreme decreases are likely to be temporary, however, as
they do not reflect structural changes in the economic, transport or
energy systems.”

If the global economy recovers to pre-pandemic conditions by
mid-June — an unlikely scenario — CO2 emissions in 2020 are
projected to drop only four percent, Le Quere and her team calculated.

But if lockdown restrictions persist throughout the year, the
decline will be around seven percent.

With nearly five million confirmed infections and 320,000 deaths,
the COVID-19 pandemic has deflected attention from the climate crisis
that dominated global concerns in 2019.

But the climate threat remains, other experts warn.

“This will make barely a dent in the ongoing build-up of carbon
dioxide in the atmosphere,” said Richard Betts, head of climate
impacts research at Britain’s Met Office Hadley Centre.

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– Like filling a bathtub –

“We need to stop putting it there altogether, not just put it there
more slowly,” he said.

“It’s like we’re filling a bath and have turned down the tap
slightly — but not turned it off. The water is still rising, just not
as fast.”

Earth’s average surface temperature has so far risen by one degree
Celsius above pre-industrial levels — enough to amplify deadly
droughts, heatwaves and superstorms engorged by rising seas.

Under the 2015 Paris climate treaty, nearly 200 nations pledged to
cap global warming at “well below” 2C.

But the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
subsequently determined that 1.5C is a far safer temperature
guardrail.

The pandemic has underscored just how difficult it will be to hit
that more ambitious target.

Emissions must fall 7.6 percent — in line with the worst-case
lockdown scenario for 2020 — every year this decade to ensure the
1.5C cap, unless other means are found to remove carbon from the
atmosphere, scientists calculate.

“The pandemic has shown us that major structural changes in the
transport and energy systems are required,” noted Mark Maslin, a
professor of climatology at University College London.

Some experts have suggested the pandemic could speed up that transition.

“Fossil fuels seem to be getting hit harder relative to
renewables,” Glen Peters, research director of the Center for
International Climate Research in Oslo, told AFP.

– Sectors hit unevenly –

“If this (continues) we may come out of COVID with emissions going
down, since renewables have been able to take more relative space,
pushing out some of the most polluting fossil fuels, especially coal.”

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But the multi-trillion dollar rescue packages — especially in the
United States and China — hastily assembled to stave off another
Great Depression send mixed signals when it comes to building a green
global economy.

“There is a high risk that short-sightedness will lead governments
to lose track of the bigger picture and put money into highly
polluting sectors that have no place in a zero-carbon society,” said
Joeri Rogelj, a researcher at Grantham Institute and Imperial College
London.

Different sectors of the economy have been hit unevenly by measures
taken to halt the pandemic, the study revealed.

On April 7 — the day global CO2 pollution dropped the most —
emissions from land transport accounted for more than 40 percent of
the decrease, while industry, electricity generation, and aviation
accounted for 25, 19 and 10 percent, respectively.

Calculating global emissions of CO2 and methane — another potent
greenhouse gas — usually takes months or longer, but methods used in
the study could help guide decision-making, the authors said.

“If we can see the effect of a policy in the space of months as
opposed to years then we can refine policies more quickly,” said
Peters.

BSS/AFP/MRU/2140hrs