A study published by Nature this month calculates the potential loss nations would face if they fail to take action toward climate change, as well as the benefits they would reap by maintaining the standard set by the Paris Agreement: keeping global temperature increase to well below 2 degrees Celsius since the industrial revolution.
Every single nation would benefit from climate action and be hurt by inaction, the study shows. The numbers are as follows: If current emissions reduction efforts continue, the world would see a benefit anywhere between $127 trillion and $616 trillion through until 2100.
However, if countries are unable to reach their Nationally Determined Contributions from the Paris Agreement, the global economy could lose between $150 trillion to $792 trillion from now through the end of this century.
Publishing this study outside of the novel coronavirus pandemic would have been a firm push to national governments. And despite the constant photos that remind us of the sudden fall in COVID-related emissions, organizations including the UN have made it clear that the world will still confront many risks linked to climate change. In many ways, however, national leaders are being pressed in the opposite direction.
Shelter-in-place orders have strained many businesses, and in some cases, governing bodies have been asked to shoulder that pressure.
Some industries are lobbying to lower carbon restrictions — claiming it’s a matter of survival. The International Air Travel Association has asked the International Civil Aviation Organization to lighten the standards that are part of the Carbon Offsetting and Reductions Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA), adding the threat that some nations would pull out if the agreement isn’t amended.
Turns out, international climate commitments aren’t as fatal as airlines make them out to be. The Environmental Defense Fund’s statement responding to airline pressure reads in part:
“Coronavirus/COVID-19 is a global crisis that has hit public health and the world’s airlines are facing real economic and structural threats. But U.N. climate action is not one of them. That’s because there will be plenty of high-quality credits available to help airlines meet their carbon limits in CORSIA’s initial years – and because CORSIA includes provisions, thanks to ICAO foresight, that give airlines flexibility to deal with the COVID-19 crisis without sacrificing climate protection.”
Car companies have also done their share of lobbying. In Europe, automakers have requested that the European Union delay implementing tighter carbon regulations. In response, Greenpeace UK’s executive director, John Sauven, told The Guardian in part, “…it would be a mistake to use this crisis as a reason to roll back on environmental regulations. One, it won’t suddenly restart car sales, and two, tackling one crisis can’t be done at the expense of another one.”
As governments do their best to control the spread of coronavirus with stay-in-place orders, individuals, businesses, cities and nations won’t be able to accomplish everything they have planned.
A message of compassion has been floating around the media to quarantined individuals — it’s ok to be unproductive right now. Parents who are homeschooling their children while working their normal nine-to-five, for one, should cut themselves slack. Multinational corporations that have received billions of dollars in stimulus funds, on the other hand, shouldn’t need slack when it comes to climate action.
The Nature study emphasizes that every country needs to increase its efforts to achieve the Paris Agreement’s target. The initial investment for G20 nations before breaking even is between $16 trillion and $104 trillion, the study finds. Benefits will require a long-term view, as the projected breaking even point is the year 2100.
Continuing climate mitigation, though, will enable nations to avoid an approximately 0.6 percent annual reduction in GDP due to the effects of climate change.
People may be seeing clearer skies out their windows as fewer individuals drive to work each day, but a few months of inactivity won’t exactly solve the climate crisis. Even as the coronavirus crisis creeps into summer, cities will have to grapple with the added challenges of climate-related flooding, wildfires and more, a Four Twenty Seven analysis shows.
There is serious work to be done, and now. Yes, there are economic benefits to be realized, but the consequences are harsher. We can’t afford to put off the Paris Agreement, and strict climate standards, until after the crisis ends.
Image credit: Nils Nedel/Unsplash
Roya Sabri is a writer and graphic designer based in Illinois. She writes about the circular economy, advancements in CSR, the environment and equity. As a freelancer, she has worked on communications for nonprofits and multinational organizations. Find her on LinkedIn.