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How Stimulus Dollars are Spent will Affect Emissions for Decades


Credit: angkhan. Key in determining post-pandemic emissions is how governments choose to spend stimulus monies—whether they use it to prop up fossil fuel incumbents or bolster clean energy transitions already underway.

The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns have led to a record crash in emissions. But it will be emission levels during the recovery—in the months and years after the pandemic recedes—that matter most for how global warming plays out, according to a new Nature commentary from researchers at the University of California San Diego.

While the skies have been noticeably cleaner, countries like the U.S., Mexico, Brazil, South Africa and others have recently relaxed laws controlling pollution and vehicle energy efficiency standards.

“This trend is worrisome because policy decisions being made now about how to save economies will determine how much CO2 enters the atmosphere over the coming decade,” said Ryan Hanna, lead author of the Nature piece and assistant research scientist at UC San Diego.

Some economies are already ticking upward, and so too emissions. Coal consumption in China, for example, has already returned to pre-pandemic levels.

History shows that recoveries can spur green or dirty industrial turning points

Key in determining post-pandemic emissions is how governments choose to spend stimulus monies—whether they use it to prop up fossil fuel incumbents or bolster clean energy transitions already underway, according to Hanna and co-authors David Victor, professor of international relations at UC San Diego’s School of Global Policy and Strategy, and Yangyang Xu, assistant professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M University.

Economic shocks, the authors note, can be critical industrial turning points. Past shocks have led to both increases and decreases in the growth of CO2 emissions. After the 1998 Asian financial crisis, emissions doubled largely due to growth of China’s heavy manufacturing and exports, all fueled by coal. By contrast, after the global financial crash of 2008, emissions growth halved over the next decade, aided by stimulus for green technologies—up to $530 billion in 2020 USD, or 15 percent of the total global stimulus. That’s promising as it shows that structural change and lower emissions are possible if governments provide support.

Whether the coming recovery is green or dirty will have an outsized effect on climate. According to the authors’ analysis, this year’s crash in emissions, by itself, would lead to levels of  atmospheric CO2 in 2050 about 10 PPM lower than the trajectory the world was on before the pandemic. By comparison, whether the recovery is green or dirty amounts to a difference of 19 PPM in the atmosphere by 2050—nearly double the impact on the climate.

Ensuring a green recovery will require government action. Yet, government responses have so far been mixed. The European Union and South Korea remain largely committed to their…



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2020-06-10 16:49:31

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