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The decrease in CO2 emissions during the pandemic shutdown shows it is possible to reach the Paris Agreement goals

An international team of researchers discovered that the sudden drop in CO2 emissions during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic shows that it is possible to reduce emissions sufficiently to meet the 1.5-degree Celsius global temperature increase goal. The researchers describe their study of aspects of the sudden drop in CO2 emissions in early 2020 in their paper published in the journal Nature Geoscience, as well as why they believe their data shows that such reductions are possible in today’s economy. In the same journal issue, the editors of Nature Geoscience published a short summary of the group’s findings on this new effort.

Nobody knew how deadly the coronavirus was or how quickly it could spread in the early days of the pandemic. As a result, governments around the world imposed an immediate lockdown—people stayed at home rather than going to work. As a result, the global economy came to a halt. Air pollution was greatly reduced at the time due to massive reductions in truck and automobile traffic and factory shutdowns. The researchers examined the CO2 reductions that occurred during the first year of the pandemic in this new study.

Countries from all over the world gathered in Paris in 2015 to sign pledges promising to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to the point where average global temperatures do not rise above 2 degrees Celsius—they also agreed in less concrete terms to try to keep temperatures from rising above 1.5 degrees Celsius. Multiple research efforts since that time have shown that the goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius will not be met based on current efforts.

The researchers discovered a 6.3 percent drop in 2020, amounting to 2,200 metric tonnes less than the previous year. The researchers describe the drop as the largest in modern history, and it is large enough to meet the 1.5-degree Celsius target if it continues. Of course, it was not sustained. People began returning to work as soon as the restrictions were lifted, and CO2 emissions returned to pre-pandemic levels.

The researchers argue that the 2020 reductions demonstrate that the Paris Agreement goals are achievable and that similar reductions may be possible without causing significant disruption to the global economy. They note that a third of the reduction in 2020 was due to a significant reduction in car and truck traffic. If countries around the world put more pressure on automakers and consumers, electric vehicles powered by renewable energy could become the norm, bringing 1.5-degree Celsius goals back into reach.


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