3 ways COVID-19 is making us rethink energy and emissions

Lockdowns, travel restrictions, and economic turmoil are altering the energy sector—and could be changing the way we think about the future of energy as the climate changes.

Global emissions were projected to peak in 2024, but COVID-19 could accelerate the process. This year’s decline might herald an earlier transition to falling CO2 levels. Reflecting no structural changes, however, 2020 lockdown-driven declines are unstable and temporary. Looking forward, keeping global warming below 2°C above pre-industrial levels is achievable, but would require immediate, drastic emissions cuts, sustained year after year for decades, until net emissions are zero.

A review of the impacts of COVID-19 on energy sources and sectors shows that to limit warming, we must shift to alternative sources, enhance energy efficiency, and improve the systems that transport and store energy.

Energy investment had been projected to grow in 2020, but COVID-19 has put the world on track for the largest decline on record: a reduction of one-fifth—nearly $400 billion—compared with 2019. Fossil fuels accounted for almost all of the loss, driven by lower demand, falling prices, and market volatility.
Governments are now making decisions that will shape infrastructure, industry, and the climate for decades. Stimulus packages offer a unique opportunity to boost economic growth while also building a more sustainable future. The increasing affordability of renewables and the potential for millions of new clean-energy jobs are two benefits for governments to consider when structuring COVID-19 economic recovery plans. (Find out why we shouldn't waste this crucial moment to prevent climate disasters.)

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