Coronavirus Is Buying Time on Climate Change. Will We Make Use of It?

Gene Naumovsky

The pandemic bought us time, but not too much.

As the pandemic stalls economies across the globe, the International Energy Agency projects emissions to fall 8 percent this year from last year’s 33 billion tons, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Director of climate and energy at the Breakthrough Institute, Zeke Hausfather said, “We were already getting close to the point of emissions peaking...it’s quite possible we might not get back up to 2019 levels.”

While the novel coronavirus pandemic has significantly reduced greenhouse gas emissions, lockdowns and economy shutdowns can not prove to be a plausible tactic to fight climate change. Also, climate change relies on the buildup of greenhouse gases, one that started from the Industrial Revolution. Future emissions, while possibly drastically lower, will still continue to add to CO2 thresholds; ultimately, leading to rising temperatures.

Hausfather added, “To stop CO2 concentrations from rising, emissions have to be cut by 80 percent, and no one is talking about anything close to that.” However, there is hope within the recent plateauing of carbon emissions, particularly space and time to strategize. The pandemic has provided the world a break, and more importantly a real-time example of what is actually possible when it comes to fighting increasing levels of greenhouse gasses.

Professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder, Roger Pielke Jr. said, “It’s quite possible we could be treading water on emissions, which is good news. This does buy us time.” Yet, time remains short, as under RCP 8.5 (“usual business”) temperatures are still expected to gain more than 4 degrees Celsius by 2100. Recent developments have lowered the estimate to three degrees, a figure still far off the Paris climate accord’s goal of 1.5 to 2 degrees.

Mr. Pielke added, “The history of climate policy is we fritter away time. With the crash in the price of fossil fuels, this would be a great time for a carbon tax. With interest rates so low, it’s a great time for large-scale investment in transforming energy systems. We have more time than we thought, but that doesn’t matter if we don’t make good use of it.”

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