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Emission Reductions Due to COVID Could Encourage Green Energy Investment

March 4, 2021 by Daniel Mollenkamp

The widespread disruptions of COVID led to an unprecedented drop in global greenhouse emissions. However, many post-coronavirus investments are fossil fuel heavy, including those in the U.S., emphasizing the policy commitments that need to be made to capitalize on these emission reductions, said a report from international researchers published on Wednesday.

Fossil fuels, one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, saw an unprecedented reduction in 2020.

Global emissions were reduced by 27% on average during the most confined phase of the virus, largely due to disruptions to the transport sector. Daily emissions were reduced around 7% by the end of the year due to lockdowns. 

In interviews and written statements from last year, Senior Fellow for Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment Rob Jackson, who was one of the authors of this study, described the general trend in emissions as perhaps the most significant drop since the Second World War.

However, without new policy choices, the significant reductions in fossil fuel emissions from the COVID closures could taper off, the authors of this study warn. 

They compared the drop to the 2008 global financial crisis period, which they hint contains an implicit warning. 

The global financial crisis represented a missed opportunity because rebound investments returned emissions to where they were headed before the crisis, so that by 2010 the reductions in emissions caused by the initial crisis were just a historical footnote. 

The problem was the infrastructure of the world economy, they said. They recommend tilting investments towards green infrastructure and away from fossil fuels to make these reductions more lasting. 

While some countries have made substantial green stimulus packages which limited investment in the fossil fuel industry in their recovery efforts, including the European Union and the U.K., investments in many countries, including China and the U.S., are “overwhelmingly dominated by fossil fuels.” 

Recent commitments from the world’s largest emission-producers, such as the Paris Agreement, represent a growing ambition for impacts on the climate, the researchers commented. 

In the U.S., the Biden administration’s climate plan is set to lower the country’s emissions to net zero by 2050.

“Year 2021 could mark the beginning of a new phase in tackling climate change. The science is established, and international agreements are in place, with some evidence that growth in global CO2 emissions was already faltering before the COVID-19 pandemic,” the study said. “The pressing timeline is constantly underscored by the rapid unfolding of extreme climate impacts.”

The study was authored by researchers from universities in the U.K., Norway, France, Australia, and the U.S., and it was published in Nature Climate Change. It can be read here.

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