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A Lockdown for the Climate every two years

Equivalent of Covid emission decrease required every two years

Experts say emissions have decreased proportionally over the past decade to meet safe global warming limits

Niederaussem coal-fired power station in Germany
The annual rate of emission reductions should increase about tenfold from that in high-income countries before the pandemic, the study found.
Carbon dioxide emissions must decrease by the equivalent of a global lockdown approximately every two years for the next decade if the world is to remain within the safe limits of global warming,  according to research .

Lockdowns around the world led to an unprecedented drop in emissions of about 7% in 2020, or about 2,6 billion tons of CO 2 , but reductions of between 1 billion and 2 billion tons are needed every year of the next decade to have a good chance of sustaining this. The temperature rises to within 1,5 ° C or 2 ° C of pre-industrial levels, as required by the Paris Agreement.

Research published Wednesday shows that countries began to slow their greenhouse gas emissions before the Covid-19 pandemic hit, but not to the level necessary to prevent climate change. Since the lockdowns were relaxed in many countries last year, there have been  strong signs that emissions are set to rise again above 2019 levels , which seriously hampers the prospects of achieving the Paris targets.

Corinne Le Quéré, lead author of the study, said the world was at a pivotal point when governments poured money into the global economy to deal with the consequences of the pandemic. “Every two years we need an emission reduction of about the size of during the lockdowns, but with  totally different methods ", she said.

Governments must prioritize climate action in their efforts to recover from the pandemic, she said. “We have not understood in the past that we cannot have climate change as an afterthought. It cannot be about one law or policy, it must be placed at the heart of all policies, ”she said. "Every strategy and plan of every government must be consistent with tackling climate change."

The study is in line with other research showing that the  drastic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions  will have little impact on long-term climate goals as a result of the pandemic, and could be followed by a rapid recovery unless  countries take swift action  to divert their economy away from fossil fuels.

“There is a real contradiction between what governments say they are doing to do [to generate a green recovery] and what they are doing,” said Le Quéré. "That is very concerning."

Glen Peters, of the Cicero Climate Research Center in Norway, who co-authored the paper, said structural changes were needed for economies around the world to move away from fossil fuels and other carbon-rich activities.

“Emissions were lower in 2020 because the fossil fuel infrastructure was being used less, not because the infrastructure was shut down,” he said. “When the fossil fuel infrastructure is put back into service, there is a risk that emissions will increase sharply in 2021, as was seen in the aftermath of the  global financial crisis in 2009. "

The article,  published in the journal Nature Climate Change , shows that many of the world's largest economies reduced their emissions before the pandemic. The Global Carbon Project, a team of scientists from around the world, found that 64 countries had reduced their emissions in the period between 2016 and 2019 compared to 2011 to 2015, but 150 countries showed an increase in emissions in the last period .

Countries need to urgently step up their efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Le Quéré said. The study shows that the annual rate of emission reductions must have increased about tenfold from 160 million tons per year in high-income countries before the pandemic hit.

In lower-income countries, there was no real slowdown in emissions between 2016 and 2019 compared to the previous two five-year periods. Such countries must also drastically slow their emissions growth in the future if the Paris targets are to be met.

Yoeri Rogelj, a climate lecturer at Imperial College London who was not involved in the study, said governments are threatening to deviate from their climate commitments as a result of the pandemic in the rush to restart stalled economies.

“Governments need to use their recovery drive in smart, future-proof ways, but other analyzes have shown that  very few governments seize this opportunity ," he said. "Currently, many governments' actions and investments in response to Covid-19 are driving emissions in the opposite direction."

Dave Reay, a professor of carbon management at the University of Edinburgh, also not involved in the study, said: “There are already signs that instead of building back better, it is more often a matter of just building back, which then also. If we are to have any chance to get back on track to meet the Paris goals, the pandemic's route must be both global and green. “

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