Coronavirus: Green recovery ‘could prevent 0.3C’ of warming by 2050

The world could avoid 0.3C of global warming by the middle of the century if governments invest in a strong “ green recovery ” from coronavirus, according to a new study.

With existing policies likely to push the temperature rise beyond 1.5C by 2050, the lead author tells Carbon Brief the pandemic provides a “make or break” opportunity to change course and meet the highest ambition of the Paris Agreement .

Global emissions have seen a significant, but temporary drop as lockdowns confined people to their homes and travel came to a standstill. But this temporary dip will only prevent around 0.01C of warming, says the new study in Nature Climate Change .

It models different ways that the world could recover from the Covid-19 crisis, finding lasting climate benefits would only come about with a significant push for low-carbon investment at the expense of fossil fuels. Another researcher tells Carbon Brief such proposals still largely remain to be seen.

Green stimulus

Having first analysed the short-term emissions changes resulting from global lockdowns (see below for details of their methods), the authors use future scenarios to test the impact of different pandemic responses, compared to a hypothetical baseline without coronavirus. 

In the baseline, countries meet their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to the Paris Agreement, but do not strengthen their ambition over time. As a result, global temperatures are likely to rise by nearly 2C above pre-industrial levels by 2050.

The paper then looks at four responses to the coronavirus crisis that either help or hinder efforts to limit warming. The projected impact of each of these scenarios on CO2 levels and future temperatures can be seen in the charts below.

The impact of the coronavirus response on global CO2 emissions (left), CO2 concentration in the atmosphere (middle) and temperature increase since the pre-industrial baseline (right), under five different scenarios. The green shading in the temperature chart indicates uncertainty and the red dotted line indicates a real observed surface temperature record by Cowtan and Way used for reference. Source: Forster et al. ( 2020 ). Each scenario begins with a “two-year blip” in emissions resulting from lockdowns and then proceeds with different levels of support for “green” stimulus or fossil fuels.

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