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Confronting the loop

Much as we might not want to glorify COVID-19, and rightly so, its impact has provided an answer to the question, ‘How do we avert a dangerous global warming feedback loop?’ The loop is in the context of melting permafrost, a phenomenon that would release alarmingly large quantities of methane trapped in the mass, which […]

| | Aug 14, 2020 | 10:28 pm
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Much as we might not want to glorify COVID-19, and rightly so, its impact has provided an answer to the question, ‘How do we avert a dangerous global warming feedback loop?’ The loop is in the context of melting permafrost, a phenomenon that would release alarmingly large quantities of methane trapped in the mass, which would induce further warming. Some would question the future tense and say the world has already crossed the Rubicon on that. And yet, we must hope and strive. COVID-19 has inadvertently provided the answer to the question. According to the authors of DNV GL’s recently published Energy Transition Outlook, COVID-19 has significantly altered our economic and social behaviour to such an extent that it has profoundly reduced global long-term energy demand. According to them, COVID-19 has also hastened the decline in carbon dioxide emissions – with 2019 set to be the year of peak emissions. Compared to DNV GL’s pre-pandemic forecast, the amount of energy required by humanity in 2050 will be eight per cent lower. Lasting behavioural changes to travel, commuting and working habits will also decrease energy usage and lessen demand for fossil fuels from the transport sector as well as from iron and steel production, the authors of the report said.

This is what Remi Eriksen, CEO, DNV GL, said: “We are still at a critical junction. We basically have the technologies to deliver on the Paris ambition, but we need smarter policies to scale these technologies much faster. COVID-19 has caused enormous human suffering but has, at the same time, shown us that measures can be implemented fast, at scale. This is an opportunity that cannot go to waste. Governments and international regulatory institutions must take this opportunity to make a lasting impact on decarbonization.”

With the earlier-than-anticipated plateauing of oil and the continued rapid decline of coal use, DNV’s forecast shows that CO2 emissions most likely have already peaked, in 2019. However, even with peak emissions behind us, and flat energy demand through to 2050, the energy transition is still nowhere near fast enough to deliver on the Paris ambition of keeping global warming well below two degrees centigrade above pre-industrial levels, in the words of the authors of the report. To reach the 1.5 degrees C target, the authors said, we would need to repeat the decline in emissions we’re experiencing in 2020 every year from now on.

To put this in perspective, the authors said, COVID-19’s impact on energy demand only buys humanity another year of ‘allowable’ emissions before the 1.5 degrees C target is exhausted, in 2029. And it buys us a couple of years, they said, before the 2 degrees C warming carbon budget is exhausted, in 2050.

And so, it is imperative we carry on. We have a responsibility to keep pushing towards better building performance, plus continue our efforts towards the widespread and safe use of low-global warming potential refrigerants that also protect the ozone layer.


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