Carbon dioxide emissions must fall by the equivalent of a global lockdown roughly every two years for the next decade for the world to keep within safe limits of global heating, research has shown.
Lockdowns around the world led to an unprecedented fall in emissions of about 7% in 2020, or about 2.6bn tonnes of CO2, but reductions of between 1bn and 2bn tonnes are needed every year of the next decade to have a good chance of holding temperature rises to within 1.5C or 2C of pre-industrial levels, as required by the Paris agreement.
Research published on Wednesday shows that countries were beginning to slow their rates of greenhouse gas emissions before the Covid-19 pandemic struck, but not to the levels needed to avert climate breakdown. Since lockdowns were eased in many countries last year, there have been strong signs that emissions will rise again to above 2019 levels, severely damaging the prospects of fulfilling the Paris goals.
Corinne Le Quéré, lead author of the study, said the world stood at a crucial point as governments poured money into the global economy to cope with the impacts of the pandemic. “We need a cut in emissions of about the size of the fall [from the lockdowns] every two years, but by completely different methods,” she said.
Governments must prioritise climate action in their efforts to recover from the pandemic, she said. “We have failed to understand in the past that we can’t have tackling climate change as a side issue. It can’t be about one law or policy, it has to be put at the heart of all policy,” she said. “Every strategy and every plan from every government must be consistent with tackling climate change.”