The coronavirus offers important lessons on the need to reduce the threat of climate change.
For starters, we've learned there is a heavy price to be paid for ignoring repeated warnings from scientists with expertise in their field of study.
Researchers at the Global Carbon Project on Tuesday published a report revealing that the Earth can expect a drop of 7% in carbon dioxide emissions this year as a result of the pandemic. It's the largest decrease in at least 75 years. That's the good news. But the plunge in carbon emissions shouldn't be perceived as a silver lining. The decline is temporary. At some point, business will resume and people will head back to work. The 7% drop will become a thing of the past.
Here's the challenge. The authors of the study, in an op-ed for Scientific American magazine, noted that the U.N. Environment program said emissions needed to drop 7.6% every year until 2030 for the global temperature increase to stay below the safer limit of 1.5 degrees C.
It's a grim reminder that we shouldn't wait another day to begin implementing innovative approaches to transportation and industrial challenges. Any new stimulus packages should seek ways of spurring clean energy programs and reducing emissions from cars and trucks. And climate change should be a front-burner issue in campaign debates this fall for elections at every level of government. The United States remains the only country to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, in which nearly 200 countries in 2015 made national pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The study was published in the journal Nature Climate Change. Stanford University's Rob Jackson is the chair of the Global Carbon Project. He said in an interview with the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment that almost $50 billion of stimulus funding after the 2008 recession helped transform wind and solar power and energy conservation.
"We have the same chance to reshape transportation now," Jackson said. "We could start by freeing up the $40 billion in low-interest loans currently idled in the Department of Energy's clean energy and advanced vehicle loan programs."
Jackson noted that before the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, emissions of carbon dioxide were rising by about 1% per year over the previous decade. The study points out that it often takes months, or even years, to determine carbon dioxide emissions after the end of each calendar year. But the researchers were able to analyze data from 69 countries, representing 97% of global carbon dioxide emissions, from January through April and compare it to 2019.
The study shows that emissions fell an average of 26% during the peak period of pandemic lockdowns around the world. The United States, the second largest polluter in the world behind China, reduced carbon dioxide emissions by just over 30% in mid-April.
Indeed, residents of California's Bay Area and other cities across the country have noticed almost immediately after sheltering in place orders were issued that the skies became noticeably clearer.
The coronavirus pandemic continues to wreak havoc throughout the country and around the world. But it's possible that we can use the pandemic to help create a cleaner, healthier world. Finding innovative ways to fight climate change is a good place to start.
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