Jul 9, 2020 - Energy & Environment

The limits of the coronavirus-related emissions dip

Reproduced from Rhodium Group; Chart: Axios Visuals
Reproduced from Rhodium Group; Chart: Axios Visuals

A pandemic is a bad, expensive and inadequate way to cut carbon emissions, and a Rhodium Group analysis out this morning helps to underscore why.

Why it matters: It modeled U.S. emissions this year and going forward based on several different scenarios of GDP decline and recovery — and all of them show lower levels for the next decade compared to the pre-pandemic baseline, but none are consistent with deeply decarbonizing the economy or a pathway to net-zero emissions by midcentury.

  • It shows 2030 emissions levels that are 2%-12% below the pre-COVID baseline.
  • "These ... reductions are achieved almost exclusively due to decreased economic activity and not from any structural changes that would deliver lasting reductions in the carbon intensity of our economy," Rhodium said.

Threat level: In addition to occurring for tragic reasons, emissions cuts from reduced travel and a hamstrung economy are a really, really expensive way to curb carbon.

  • "Near-term emission reductions driven by COVID-19...come at an enormous economic cost—$3,200-5,400 per ton of CO2 reduced, on average this year," the analysis states.
  • It makes the case for achieving much deeper and cheaper CO2 cuts by stitching big clean energy investments into economic recovery packages, something that's not happening so far in the U.S.

What's next: "Through 2020 and into next year, we will assess green recovery policy ideas for their potential to put people back to work and spur economic growth while also quantifying their potential to cut emissions and drive clean technology deployment," the firm notes.

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