COVID-19 pandemic has reduced emissions, but it's not enough to fend off climate change

A new study shows any positive effects from reduced emissions resulting from the coronavirus pandemic are short term at best.

Sean Szymkowski
It all started with Gran Turismo. From those early PlayStation days, Sean was drawn to anything with four wheels. Prior to joining the Roadshow team, he was a freelance contributor for Motor Authority, The Car Connection and Green Car Reports. As for what's in the garage, Sean owns a 2016 Chevrolet SS, and yes, it has Holden badges.
Sean Szymkowski
2 min read
Tailpipe emissions

Any positives will wash away by the end of this decade, essentially.

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Immediately following extreme lockdown measures that governments around the world implemented, it became clear the coronavirus pandemic was having a positive effect in one way. Emissions levels plunged as motorists stayed home, factories stalled and fossil fuel usage flat-lined.

The good news is a new study shows we're on track to record a slight cooling on the planet, thanks to the reduced emissions. The bad news is any effects are incredibly short lived. The study, published in the Nature Research Journal, looked at mobility trend data, thanks to the proliferation of smartphones . Google and Apple data helped paint an accurate picture of a mobility slowdown amid the pandemic, with some countries showing mobility drops of 80% this past April.

Using the mobility data, researchers plugged into models to create a baseline and trends to discover how such a drastic change in mobility will affect the climate moving forward. The results were conclusive: direct effects from the coronavirus pandemic will be "negligible." A cooling of the earth by anywhere between 0.01 and 0.005 degrees Celsius, or less than 1 degree Fahrenheit, should occur between now and 2030, the study says. To put that into perspective, global temperatures have risen about 0.15- to 0.20-degree Celsius every decade since 1975.

Based on current plans and trends, that minor difference will likely wash away in the decades to follow. Making the assumption that social distancing remains the norm until sometime in 2021, emissions return to the calculated baseline by the end of 2022. Already planned investments around the world don't go far enough, according to this new study.

Instead, researchers suggested nations can build on the short-term gain with a "green recovery" strategy. Should current green energy investment levels remain as economies rebuild post-pandemic, it's still likely the earth warms by 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2050. If nations choose to put their weight behind a "fossil-fuel recovery," the outcome remains the same.

A green recovery, rather, imagines 1.2% of the global gross domestic product aimed at clean energy and emissions reductions. By the models' count, this pathway gives us a 55% chance at keeping the climate from warming past another 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2050.

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