What Do Climate Plans Look Like Post-Pandemic?

Luna Valayannopoulos-Akrivou, Around School Editor

On April 22nd and 23rd, President Joe Biden invited 40 world leaders to the Leaders Summit on Climate to mobilize the efforts of major world economies in tackling the global climate crisis. The Summit underlined the urgency and economic benefits of stronger climate action. 

The past five years have been the warmest ever recorded, with a rise of 1.18°C in global temperature since the 19th century. Because of this, scientists have emphasized the need to stop the Earth’s warming, limiting it to a rate of increase of no more than 1.5°C to avoid the worst effects of climate change. Thus, attendees of the Leader Summit reinforced this as a priority to catalyze their efforts and meet the 1.5°C goal.

In December 2015, 194 nations, including the European Union, jointly signed the Paris Agreement, an important step forward in the international community’s efforts to tackle climate change. In signing the agreement, nations committed to limiting the increase in global warming temperature to well below 2°C, with a loosely set goal of keeping it at 1.5°C. 

This ambitious 1.5°C goal is obviously not new (it has been around since 2015), but it begs the question of what action has been taken in the past six years. The truth is that the majority of carbon reduction pledges for 2030 are not nearly ambitious enough to keep the change in global warming below 1.5°C. “Countries are not being kept accountable to their pledges, and some of the major carbon emitters will continue to increase their emission,” explained a panel of world-class scientists in an interview with National Geographic. Their report “The Truth Behind the Paris Agreement Climate Pledges,” predicts that by 2030, a failure to reduce carbon emissions will be detrimental to the global economy with a loss of two billion dollars per day as a result of weather damage and human-induced climate change. Sir Robert Watson, a former chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and co-author of the report, addressed the issue, saying “We have the technology and knowledge to make those emission cuts, but what’s missing are strong enough policies and regulations to make it happen.” Watson estimated that if nothing is done, “The world is on a pathway to between 3 and 5 degrees celsius by the end of the century.” Sophia Kolodney ’21, president of the Environmental Action Club proposes a solution: “In order to transition to a zero carbon economy quickly enough to avoid climate catastrophe, vast quantities of green energy infrastructure would have to be created at warp-speed.”

With the COVID-19 pandemic and the following global lockdown, scientists pointed out a small silver lining for the planet: a decrease in carbon emission. Global greenhouse gas emissions have dropped by approximately 7% from 2019. But as global vaccination rates increase in 2021, scientists warn that emissions will rebound and continue to increase at an unprecedented rate if the US government does not prioritize a climate change plan as part of their COVID-19 economic recovery. Julliette Coley ’24 commented that, “I think that having [companies] substantially cut down the amount of greenhouse gases they emit or having them just find an alternative that’s safer for the environment is a starting point in regard to what to do to reduce climate change.”  

In order to transition to a zero carbon economy quickly enough to avoid climate catastrophe, vast quantities of green energy infrastructure would have to be created at warp-speed.”

— Sophia Kolodney '21

According to the International Monetary Fund, the world’s biggest economies have already invested more than $12 trillion in efforts to jumpstart economies. Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme stated “The science is clear. Time is running out. We have one decade to transform our economies and avoid climate catastrophe.” A green pandemic recovery will cut anticipated emission in 2030 by up to 25% and increase the chance of keeping the world temperature increase below the 2°C goal.

Countries like Germany, Britain, and Japan have urged nations to be more mindful of the planet in their legislation, and to invest in green technologies as part of their COVID recovery plan. In December of 2020, Congress passed a $900 billion stimulus package that included several provisions to fight climate change by investing in renewable technologies, and cutting the use of hydrofluorocarbons, a planet warming chemical found in refrigerators and air conditioning. Yet, only a quarter of G-20 summit leaders (from the 2011 G-20 Climate Summit) have dedicated shares of their spending to low carbon measures. Arguably, the most important factor to a greener, more environmentally friendly COVID recovery entails governments around the world updating and solidifying their ambitious climate goals following the Leaders Summit on Climate. Colley told the Register Forum that, “I think that what the pandemic has taught us about climate change is that being strong and working together is the only way it can be solved.”

However, despite all the changes talked about at the legislative, national, and international level, changes made at the local level are just as important. Coley told the Register Forum that, “At an individual level, doing easy things, such as not wasting water, not wasting food, taking bikes or public transportation instead of cars, makes a positive difference toward climate change. Those activities, among the many others that can be done to reduce climate change, should be applied in everyone’s life and be seen as the bare minimum because climate change is something that’s threatening the Earth and everything on it,” Coley ended with. Finally, Kolodney concluded with, “In the United States, poor communities (largely communities of color) are bearing the brunt of corporate recklessness and government neglect. Thus, any just plan should put these communities on the forefront, rebuilding them to be resilient against a changing climate, providing good jobs in sustainable industries, and ensuring access to healthcare and other basic services.”