Story at a glance
- Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, a drastic change in travel and activity has led to a drop in greenhouse gas emissions and other pollution.
- As the world reopens, however, experts warn that emissions will rebound if action isn’t taken to make the change permanent.
- Climate experts have been warning of a rapidly closing window to address the long-term effects of climate change before they become irreversible.
As countries begin to reopen despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, it’s not just the economy that is expected to rebound. Experts warn that the drop in greenhouse gas emissions from social distancing prevention measures is likely to be reversed, unless immediate action is taken.
“This year is the last time we have, if we are not to see a carbon rebound,” Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency (IEA), told The Guardian. “The next three years will determine the course of the next 30 years and beyond. If we do not [take action] we will surely see a rebound in emissions. If emissions rebound, it is very difficult to see how they will be brought down in future. This is why we are urging governments to have sustainable recovery packages.”
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In a report released June 18, the IEA and the International Monetary Fund present a “Sustainable Recovery Plan” that seeks to continue reducing emissions while boosting economic growth. The ambitious plan seeks to boost global economic growth by an average of 1.1 percentage points and save or create about 9 million jobs a year, all while reducing annual global energy-related greenhouse gas emissions by a total of 4.5 billion tonnes by the end of the plan.
The price tag? About $3 trillion over the next three years, or about 0.7 percent of today’s global GDP.
“Policy makers are having to make hugely consequential decisions in a very short space of time as they draw up stimulus packages. Our Sustainable Recovery Plan provides them with rigorous analysis and clear advice on how to tackle today’s major economic, energy and climate challenges at the same time. The plan is not intended to tell governments what they must do. It seeks to show them what they can do,” Birol said in a statement.
A recent study found global carbon emissions fell by more than 1 billion tons in March and April, with a peak drop in daily emissions of 17 percent. While China accounted for much of the initial emissions reductions, the United States, India, Britain and the European Union saw major decreases in April and May. But emissions have already begun to rebound, rising to just 5 percent below last year’s average, and it’s clear that the window has already begun to close.
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