‘Green recovery’ from COVID-19 can slow climate change: UN environment report

9 December 2020

Despite a brief dip in global carbon dioxide emissions as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, the planet is still heading for a global temperature rise in excess of 3 degrees Celsius this century, a new United Nations report has revealed. 

Speedy and strong climate action can, however, change the temperature trajectory, according to UN Environment Programme (UNEP)’s Emissions Gap Report 2020

Released on Wednesday, the report highlighted the need for urgent investments in climate action as part of COVID-19 recovery, to bring the world closer to the Paris Agreement goal of at most a 2-degree Celsius temperature rise. 

Inger Andersen, UNEP Executive Director, highlighted that a truly green recovery from the pandemic can take “a huge slice out of greenhouse gas emissions” and slow climate change. 

“I urge governments to back a green recovery in the next stage of COVID-19 fiscal interventions and raise significantly their climate ambitions in 2021”, she said. 

Translate commitment into action 

The green recovery could cut expected emissions in 2030 by up to 25 per cent, and boost the chance of keeping temperature rise to below 2-degree Celsius, up to 66 per cent, according the report.  

Measures such as supporting zero-emissions technologies and infrastructure, reducing fossil fuel subsidies, stopping new coal plants, and promoting nature-based solutions – including large-scale landscape restoration and reforestation – must be prioritized. 

The report also found that the growing number of countries committing to net-zero emissions goals by mid-century is a “significant and encouraging development”: so far, some 126 countries covering 51 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, have adopted, announced or are considering, a net zero pledge. 

UNICEF/Shehzad Noorani
Countries must urgently transition away from fossil fuels. Pictured here, black smoke smoke rises from a chimney at a brick kiln, which uses coal fire to bake bricks, in eastern Bangladesh. (file photo)

Consumer behaviour, transport sectors 

Combined emissions of the richest 1 per cent of the global population account for more than twice the combined emissions of the poorest 50 per cent – UNEP

Each year the Emission Gap Report looks at the potential of specific sectors. This year, it focuses on consumer behaviour, together with shipping and aviation.  

The report found that improvements in shipping and aviation technology and operations can improve fuel efficiency. However, with increasing demand, the sectors also need a rapid transition further away from fossil fuel to achieve absolute reductions in carbon dioxide emissions. 

The report also confirmed that combined emissions of the richest one per cent of the global population account for more than twice the combined emissions of the poorest 50 per cent. The top tier will need to reduce their collective footprint by a factor of 30, to stay in line with the Paris Agreement targets. 

Similarly, changes in consumption behaviour by the private sector and individuals, can help strengthen climate action, through various means such as replacing domestic short haul flights with rail travel; promoting cycling and car-sharing; making housing more energy efficient, and reducing food waste.

 

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