The Corner

Energy & Environment

The COVID-19 Economy and a Taste of ‘Net Zero’

From a BBC report on the impact of the COVID-19 lockdowns on CO2 emissions:

To keep the world on track to stay under 1.5C this century, the world needs similar cuts for the foreseeable future to keep this target in view.

“If Covid-19 leads to a drop in emissions of around 5% in 2020, then that is the sort of reduction we need every year until net-zero emissions are reached around 2050,” said Glen Peters… from Cicero.

[Cicero is the Centre for International Climate and Environmental Research]

1.5C is the target that emerged from the Paris Agreement on climate change.

Rupert Darwall writing on the homepage today:

The IPCC makes no bones about viewing net zero, it says, as providing the opportunity for ‘intentional societal transformation.’ Limiting the rise to rise in global temperature to no more than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels — an ill-defined baseline chosen by the U.N. because the Industrial Revolution is our civilization’s original sin — requires ‘transformative systemic change’ and ‘very ambitious, internationally cooperative policy environments that transform both supply and demand.’

Thanks to COVID-19, we have a foretaste of what the IPCC intends. It envisages, for example, the industrial sector cutting its emissions by between 67 and 91 percent by 2050, implying a contraction in industrial output so dramatic as to make the 1930s Great Depression look like a walk in the park, a possibility the IPCC choses to ignore. The IPCC places its bets on a massive transition to wind and solar, but no amount of wishful thinking can overcome the inherent physics of their low energy density and their intermittency, which explains why countries with the highest proportion of wind and solar on their grids also have the highest energy costs in the world. One option the IPCC does not favor — a wholesale transition to nuclear power — seems unachievable anyway on the timetable it has in mind. Nuclear power stations typically take well over five years to build, and not many are planned for now. Germany is switching out of nuclear power, the Japanese are, to quote the New York Times “racing to build new coal-burning . . . plants” and the Chinese are wary of overdoing their nuclear construction because of the risk of accident.

If something akin to the COVID-19 economy for decades is what you want, going for ‘net zero’ by 2050 may be a way to achieve it.

Britain’s Conservative government put the 2050 target into law last year, making the U.K. the first G7 country to do, just another part of the ruinous legacy that prime minister Theresa May left behind her. Her successor, Boris Johnson, has endorsed this target, and so (the Independent reports):

Boris Johnson must dump road-building plans, refit energy-leaking homes and plant millions of trees to rescue his climate change promises when the lockdown ends, his advisers are warning.

The coronavirus recovery package must not “lock-in higher carbon emissions” if the UK is to achieve its legal commitment of ‘net zero’ discharges by 2050, they say in a letter to the prime minister.

Good luck with that.


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