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Does the epidemic show us that we can reduce our carbon footprint? Sort of.



They started with an unexpected silver material – clearer skies and cleaner air in cities ranging from Los Angeles to New Delhi, and the return of fish and crystal clear waters at Very famous to the dark canals of Venice, Italy Late last year, these local anecdotes were a true and measurable indicator of the unintentional climate benefits of the epidemic.

Still, while delightful But environmental relief was not expected to last. There are already signs that as countries seek to return to normal, all economic activity and the emissions and pollution that accompany it will creep up again.

And if the epidemic reveals what could be considered a low-hanging fruit in the fight against the climate, it highlights the real extent of the problem.

“If you think about the level of action we want ̵

1; if we want to limit global warming as proposed in the Paris Agreement – we need to reduce emissions by 1 or 2 billion tonnes every year,” Corinne Le Quéré said. Professor of Climate Change Science at the University of East Anglia in the UK. “That’s less than we did during the outbreak. But there are still many. “

The decline in 2020 is drastic.

A study published last month in the journal Nature Climate Change found that global carbon dioxide emissions last year decreased by 7 percent compared to 2019, and about a year ago, there were articles published in the same journal. It is estimated that in April 2020 at the altitude Outbreak-related disruptions in Asia, Europe and North America, global carbon dioxide emissions fell 17 percent compared to 2019.

“Seven percent is a significant reduction in emissions for a year,” said Le Quéré, lead author of both studies. “In absolute numbers, that is 2.6 billion tons of carbon dioxide, which has never been done before.”

An abandoned canal in Venice, Italy on April 5.Andrea Pattaro / AFP – Getty Images

But there are already indications that global emissions could rebound significantly. A new report from the International Energy Agency, an intergovernmental body based in France, predicts rising global energy demand this year could drive emissions higher than pre-epidemic levels.

Scientists are not suggesting that climate change solutions are in economic slowdowns, paralyze all industries and enforce drastic measures that destroy people’s lives. But experts say that after a year with profound behavioral changes, one revealing how debilitating the global crisis can be, the epidemic offers important lessons in dealing with changing conditions. Climate

For one thing, it shows that countries can mobilize forces to tackle big problems, Le Quéré said.

“It shows that coordinated government action can deliver results quickly,” she said. “It’s important now that measures are good for the people, healthy for their jobs and good for the economy.”

In their latest study, Le Quéré and colleagues found that the biggest drop in emissions last year was in the transportation sector. By the end of the year, surface transport emissions, including cars and trucks, were down 10 percent compared with 2019 and aviation dropped 40 percent.

As countries reopen and service life back to more normalcy, emissions are expected to return, said Zeke Hausfather, climate and energy director at the Breakthrough Institute in Oakland, California. At least it is possible that at least some lifestyle changes will take place.

“We’re not going to stop traveling anytime soon, but I think we’ve learned that a lot of travel isn’t necessary,” he said. Remote work and many other things from the past year are not just going to disappear. ”

The modifications can have a big effect. Transportation accounts for nearly a quarter of global carbon dioxide emissions, according to the International Energy Agency. In the United States in 2019, transportation accounted for the country’s highest share of greenhouse gas emissions, at 29 percent.

Worldwide air travel accounts for only 2.4 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions, but before the pandemic, commercial air travel emissions have soared. For example, from 2013 to 2018, emissions from commercial air operations increased by 32 percent.

Changing the way people travel may not solve climate change on their own. But it certainly can help reduce the emissions equation, Hausfather said.

“We’re slowly going in the right direction and making some of the worst outcomes less likely,” he said.

However, it is possible to look at the climate benefits of the outbreak through a more pessimistic lens. While emissions dropped by 7 percent over a year are significant in absolute terms. But it only went back to 2011 global emissions levels, Hausfather said.

Someone is riding a Citi Bike in Kips Bay in New York City on March 19. Noam Galai / Getty Images

And the long-term effects of climate change are not driven by year-to-year fluctuations, he said.

“The problem with global warming is one of cumulative emissions, not annual emissions,” said Hausfather. “It is not the 2020 emissions that determine global temperatures this year or last year. But it’s our total release since the Industrial Revolution. ”

John Reilly, co-director of MIT’s joint program on science and global change policy, said the pandemic also shows how challenging relying on behavior change as a solution to the problem.

“It is very difficult to get people to be socially obscure and distant,” said Revile. “People don’t want to change their lifestyles or lead busy lives. If we have to do this with behavior change, it will be very difficult.

But Reilly is hopeful the Covid-19 crisis will provide urgent help in fighting the climate.

“I think some people have seen the outbreak and say, ‘Hmm, it’s not due to climate change. But this is a global catastrophe that can befall us with climate change, so maybe we should do something about it, ” he said.

There are some indications that governments are connecting the same point.

President Joe Biden hosted a virtual climate summit this week, along with other global leaders, to build on America’s commitment to addressing climate change, days after the United States and China made a pledge. Will work together to fight climate change Countries issued a joint statement on Sunday that agreed. “It will deal with the climate crisis which must be addressed with the seriousness and urgency it needs”.

Other countries have signaled they intend to take proactive steps to combat global warming. EU lawmakers are finalizing a deal that will include targets for achieving zero emissions by 2050.

They are the experts on promises to pay attention this year, especially as countries prepare to meet in November to set more ambitious emissions targets as part of the campaign. As part of the Paris Agreement, Biden joins climate change on the first day of his presidency and all eyes on the United States show their commitment on the world stage.

“We have a lot of lost ground to compensate, especially in terms of our reliability,” said Hausfather.

Le Quéré said it was difficult to overstate the importance of climate action as countries recover from the outbreak and rebuild their economies. And perhaps the hardest lesson from the past year is how the world interconnects and how the global crisis occurs, overflowing across borders and across all parts of society, which often makes the inequality that There is deep

“These are all systemic threats to global society,” Le Quéré said. “There’s a lot in common. Governments should be signaled right now that you can’t ignore climate change, and if you don’t want to ignore climate change. Ignore it, it’s your own danger. “


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