Researchers Will Track Whether Coronavirus Recovery Spending Benefits Climate



A team of researchers from Johns Hopkins University has set out to measure what percentage of the billions of dollars that world governments are spending on the recovery from the coronavirus pandemic might result in lasting reductions of greenhouse gas emissions.

Jonas Nahm, an assistant professor of energy, resources and environment at Hopkins and one of the leaders of the effort at Hopkins’ School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), explained that the effort grew out of “frustration.”

Studies of the impacts of past economic downturns, such as the recession of 2007 to 2009, provide scant information on what percentage of the recovery money spent delivered long-term benefits to the climate. Estimates of the 2009 recession show that somewhere between 5% and 16% had impacts on climate change-related issues.

While the lockdowns after this year’s pandemic resulted in sharp reductions in air pollution in April, Nahm noted they already are beginning to fade.

The first rescue packages approved by governments largely have focused on short-term issues such as unemployment. “This summer, we expect-longer term recovery bills about how we get out of this hole, and that’s where you would expect climate change-related spending to happen,” said Nahm.

He noted that one measure already approved by the French government stands out. As a condition to a massive aid package for Air France, the airline was required to stop competing for customers on shorter routes served by the nation’s high-speed rail lines, on which people can be moved more efficiently (Climatewire, May 11).

“That’s a different lever,” he said. “It’s not just an investment package, so you can change behavior that way.” Other choices governments can make, such as requiring future buildings to be more energy-efficient, can go beyond business as usual and contribute to long-term climate goals, such as the Paris Agreement’s aim to cut increases in global warming by 2050.

Some information from the aftermath of earlier recessions, he added, show that rebounds have more than offset greenhouse gas reductions from the recessions themselves. “We quickly surpass what we might have saved if we don’t do it well,” he said.

So far, global carbon dioxide reduction predictions for 2020 show that they will drop by about 5%, while a 7.6% annual reduction globally will be required to meet the eventual Paris goals. “So it’s short-term, and it’s not structural, and it’s beginning to fade as people move around more,” Nahm said.

To shed more light on recovery measures, a team of engineers at SAIS are preparing to model the short- and long-term benefits of recovery moves by major nations and present them on a website starting this summer.

“That will give us some information on what kinds of spending will be having the biggest impacts,” he said. So far, a Hopkins “Alliance for a Healthier World” fund has contributed $25,000 to the study. Nahm said that with more funding, the effort could be expanded to display the results of recovery measures from smaller countries.

Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from E&E News. E&E provides daily coverage of essential energy and environmental news at www.eenews.net.

Read more about the coronavirus outbreak from Scientific American here, and read coverage from our international network of magazines here.



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