Oct 28, 2020 - Energy & Environment

Why the pandemic's carbon cuts still won't head off a climate emergency

Data: BloombergNEF; Chart: Axios Visuals

Global carbon emissions from energy, which are the lion's share, will never fully come back from pre-pandemic levels — recovering from a pandemic-fueled decline but sinking again around 2027 with renewable energy on the rise — according to a BloombergNEF analysis.

But, but, but: It still won't prevent the planet from cooking, as the firm still sees enough emissions to lead to over 3.3°C of warming above preindustrial levels by century's end.

  • That's far beyond the Paris agreement goal of limiting warming to 2°C and ideally 1.5°C — benchmarks for avoiding some of the most damaging effects.
  • And it's despite the fact that, in the new outlook's core scenario, the pandemic's effect on energy demand will remove a total of almost three years worth of emissions by 2050.

Why it matters: “To stay well below two degrees of global temperature rise, we would need to reduce emissions by 6% every year starting now, and to limit the warming to 1.5 degrees C, emissions would have to fall by 10% per year," BNEF analyst Matthias Kimmel said in a statement alongside the report.

What we don't know: How much nations' economic responses to the pandemic will ultimately steer resources into low-carbon projects. A research consortium called Energy Policy Tracker is keeping an updated tally here.

The intrigue: That brings me to another other ripple effect. I don't think it's a stretch to say the pandemic might have an outsized influence on U.S. climate policy.

  • Absent the crisis and its economic effects, President Trump, who gets poor marks from voters on COVID-19, would likely have a much better chance of re-election.
  • If Joe Biden wins, he's vowing a 180-degree turn in the U.S. approach to global warming.
  • While Trump is reversing Obama-era policies, Biden's platform would go vastly beyond anything contemplated in the Obama years.
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