Story at a glance
- A report from the World Economic Forum states that countries cannot rely on the COVID-19-induced emissions reduction to alleviate adverse effects of climate change.
- Authors cite data from the Great Recession to prove emissions will likely rise again without policy action.
The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked a severe toll on lives and economies around the world, with a silver lining being the reprieve less transportation has granted to the environment in terms of less pollution emitted in the atmosphere.
A new report issued by the World Economic Forum (WEF) casts doubt on the idea that the pandemic forcing the global economy to a halt could substantially heal the environment or reserve the effects of climate change.
The organization’s 2021 Global Risks Report outlines some of the biggest threats facing humanity, such as economic disenfranchisement and political and social unrest. It specifically focuses on the negative environmental ramifications poised to follow the COVID-19 pandemic.
Researchers write that over the next decade, severe environmental changes like extreme weather, inaction on climate change-prevention initiatives, biodiversity loss, natural resource crises and human-led environmental damage.
Referencing the similar commute slowdown during the Great Recession between 2008-09, WEF authors note that a small respite from greenhouse gas emissions cannot substitute long-term institutional changes.
“Although lockdowns worldwide caused global emissions to fall in the first half of 2020, evidence from the 2008–2009 Financial Crisis warns that emissions could bounce back,” the report reads. “A shift towards greener economies cannot be delayed until the shocks of the pandemic subside.”
One piece of data referenced in the report showcases a 9 percent drop in carbon emissions due to the pandemic-induced recession during the first half of 2020.
To maintain this downward trend — and keeping the planet from warming by at least another 1.5 degrees Celsius — a “similar decrease” in emissions for the next 10 years will help the planet avoid “the worst of climate change.”
“Collective efforts are needed to prevent a repeat as economies emerge from the pandemic. Growth and emissions must be decoupled and transition risks managed in an urgent evolution to a low carbon economy,” the report reads.
The authors advocate using the upcoming UN Climate Change Conferences in November 2021 to iron out aggressive national targets for emissions and rules for carbon trading to help catalyze a sustainable low-carbon economy.
“A shift towards greener production and consumption cannot be delayed until economies are revived,” the report summarizes. “Governments—individually and in coordination—need to catalyse a transformation that amalgamates investment in green and inclusive economic recovery, with short-term measures to bridge gaps in health, education, employment prospects and social safety nets.”