Aug. 7 (UPI) -- If global warming is to be limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius, as recommended by the Paris Agreement, scientists say efforts to reverse economic damage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic must include climate policy measures, according to a study published Friday.
COVID-19 has killed several hundred thousand people and sickened millions more, but the lockdowns necessitated by the crisis have had a positive effect on air quality.
Research published Friday in the journal Nature Climate Change, however, suggests the pandemic's silver lining is unlikely to last should the world economy's return to business as usual.
Even if global lockdowns were extended through the end of the year, without significant economic reforms, the reductions in greenhouse gas emissions achieved during the pandemic will amount to infinitesimal reduction in global warming.
"Our paper shows that the actual effect of lockdown on the climate is small," study co-author Harriet Forster said in a news release.
"The important thing to recognize is that we've been given a massive opportunity to boost the economy by investing in green industries -- and this can make a huge difference to our future climate," said Forster, who recently graduated from the University of Leeds in Britain.
For the new study, researchers used global mobility data provided by Google and Apple to estimate the effects of lockdowns on 10 different greenhouse gases and air pollutants across 123 countries.
The data, recorded between February and June, showed behavior shifts and reductions in economic activity have resulted in a 10 to 30 percent reduction in CO2, nitrogen oxides and other pollutants.
But because the behavioral shifts triggered by pandemic and resulting economic downturn are temporary, researchers suggest the momentary reduction in emissions will have a minimal impact on climate change.
Still, the authors suggest the pandemic has provided global governments a unique opportunity to address climate change long-term.
When researchers modeled the effects of different post-lockdown recovery strategies, they found investments in green industries could help heal global economies while reducing greenhouse emissions.
Researchers suggest that while the pandemic's effects on the climate are temporary, they have offered a glimpse of the progress that could be made with permanent structural reforms.
"The choices made now could give us a strong chance of avoiding 0.3 degrees Celsius of additional warming by mid-century, halving the expected warming under current policies," said lead study author Piers Forster. "This could mean the difference between success and failure when it comes to avoiding dangerous climate change.
"The study also highlights the opportunities in lowering traffic pollution by encouraging low emissions vehicles, public transport and cycle lanes," said Piers, director of the Priestley International Center for Climate at Leeds. "The better air quality will immediately have important health effects -- and it will immediately start cooling the climate."