The Global Coronavirus Shutdown Will Not Slow Climate Change

The Age of Face Masks
May 2, 2020
The New York Times notes that CO 2 emissions fell to their lowest level since the end of World War II, when large parts of Europe were in ruins, as a result of an unprecedented energy shock. The largest emission reductions are led by the United States, the European Union, China, Japan, Russia, India and other countries. Crucially, the amount of carbon dioxide saturating the atmosphere is likely to be influenced by the International Energy Agency's estimates for 2020, which it estimates at 1.5 billion tons of CO2 emissions, compared with historical levels in 2019. This is because atmospheric CO2 levels are like a giant "bank account" that has been accumulating more and more carbon every year for well over a century, reaching the highest level since the end of the Industrial Revolution. This year's CO 2 emissions, however, are only a deposit; the deposit in 2020 may be smaller than that in 2019, but it is nevertheless supplemented by the atmosphere - carbon accounts. That's still a significant increase from last year, "said Michael Mann, a climate scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), referring to atmospheric CO2 levels. But it does not fundamentally change the direction in which the world is moving, he added. If we do not radically reduce CO2 emissions year after year, our world could be heading for much greater warming. We are still emitting more than twice as much CO2 as we did at the end of the last century, "he said. Even if emissions fall by a whopping 8% by 2020, a significant reduction in emissions this year, fueled by a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels and the removal of microbial parasites that cause serious respiratory diseases, will not tame global warming. Given the current rate of warming, the Earth will still warm by about 2 degrees Celsius by 2100. This means that by the end of this year, roughly the same amount of carbon will be blown into the atmosphere as in 2010. Nevertheless, high emissions by 2020 may slow down the Earth's growing carbon footprint somewhat, but we will still add about 1.5 billion tons of CO2 to our atmosphere each year. And if we do that for another year, it won't have a significant impact on CO 2 levels, "Karnauskas said. To illustrate, without a pandemic or subsequent economic shock, the average CO2 concentration in the atmosphere is expected to average 414.2% this year. If emissions were reduced by eight percent, they would fall slightly more sharply to 413.9 ppm. But if they were to fall by five percent, emissions would still fall to just 414, "said Michael Mann, a climate scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Importantly, this is still well below the average CO2 concentration, which averaged 411.5 ppm last year. Carbon dioxide emissions are unlikely to fall at all, but it is nonetheless not reasonable to plunge the global economy into chaos to achieve these reductions. It is destructive and inhumane and will have disastrous consequences for human health and the planet's climate. However, large sections of society still consume a lot of energy and, as much of it is closed off, it seems likely that there should be a projected reduction of at least 10% of total energy consumption this year, rather than just around 8%. What this really tells us is that economic shocks are unsustainable and cannot be a good example of decarbonization because they are unsustainable, "Hausvater says. For example, we still use a lot of electricity in our homes, but outside of transport, emissions have not changed that much, "he says. Only transportation has changed radically, says Michael O'Brien, director of the Global Carbon Project, which studies carbon emissions. The recovery is similar to the Great Recession, when emissions rose 5 percent, Jackson said. Regardless of how much emissions ultimately fall this year, there will be a sharp increase in emissions when people start driving and traveling again. The US transportation sector is powered by fossil fuels, which means large carbon dioxide emissions, even though transportation is actually the main source of heat. Cars bought in the US now cause more than 80% of greenhouse gas emissions from transport. Globally, about half of aviation fuel burned in 2018 is low-emission - low-emission fuels like biofuels. If we just go back to the cars, there will be a record year of emissions reduction, but in five or 10 years it won't be much, "Jackson said. But we need systematic change to really reduce emissions and not just "forget cars. We need to use clean energy technologies on a very large scale, "Hausvater said. In transportation, that means a nationwide electric vehicle charging system, as proposed by Congresswoman Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., to encourage people to buy electric cars. It also means developing renewable energies so that they become the dominant means of generating electricity. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, renewable energy will account for more than half of US power generation capacity by 2018. The longer society waits to reduce emissions in a meaningful and sustainable way, the more drastic measures will be needed to contain future warming. It is like waiting for a growing pandemic to plunge the US into prolonged death from heart disease, cancer, and other serious diseases. If global warming were contained to levels that would prevent the worst effects of climate change, global emissions would fall by 7.6% a year, which would, of course, trigger a sharp economic shock. But Karnauskas said less serious action could be taken in the short term, even with a modest reduction in emissions from fossil fuels.