Emissions Holding at 92% of Pre-COVID Levels Prompt Calls for Systemic Change
The skies are largely plane-free, and streets across the globe are suddenly alive with pedestrians and void of cars—yet there will be a mere 8% drop in global emissions this year. Analysts are taking that dissonance as a stark reminder than the climate crisis will only be solved by system-wide structural change, not individual best efforts.
Updating an earlier Carbon Brief estimate that pandemic-stricken 2020 would see only a 5.5% drop in emissions, the International Energy Agency is now projecting an 8% drop in emissions, reports Grist. But either way, people from Los Angeles to Mumbai who are enjoying novel clear blue skies may well be wondering why the atmosphere is still registering red-alert levels.
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“People focus way, way too much on [their] personal footprints, and whether they fly or not, without really dealing with the structural things that really cause carbon dioxide levels to go up,” said climatologist Gavin Schmidt. The truth is that the most emissions-heavy sectors—electricity, heating, and energy-intensive processes like aluminum smelting—have not, unlike private cars and public airlines, been parked by the pandemic.
As an example, Grist points to annual transportation emissions, which the International Energy Agency pegs at just a bit above 20% of the global total. “Even if all travel were completely carbon-free (imagine a renewable-powered, electrified train system, combined with personal EVs and battery-powered airplanes), there’d still be another 80% of fossil fuel emissions billowing into the skies.”
Analysis last November by the United Nations Environment Programme points to a harsh reality, Grist recalls: “Emissions need to be cut by 7.6% every year to keep global warming from surpassing 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels—the threshold associated with the most dangerous climate threats.”