New research has revealed that the drop in greenhouse gases and air pollutants as a result of lockdown will make little difference to climate change.
The new study, led by Prof Piers Forster from the University of Leeds, predicts that by 2030, global temperatures will only be 0.01C lower than expected.
The research warns that if transport goes back to what it was before lockdown measures were activated, and the world invests in fossil fuels during the recovery, there is a very high probability that the world will go above the 1.5C warming threshold by 2050.
However, if recovery is predominately green, it could prevent 0.3C of warming by the middle of this century.
"Although temporary changes can help, you need to reduce CO2 permanently to make a dent in global warming," Prof Piers Forster said.
"CO2 is long lived in the atmosphere, so you effectively need to reduce emissions to zero for a long-time before you begin to cancel out the effects from decades of past emissions."
He added: "The choices made now could give us a strong chance of avoiding 0.3˚C of additional warming by mid-century, halving the expected warming under current policies. 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. The better air quality will immediately have important health effects – and it will immediately start cooling the climate."
Harriet Forster, who worked on the paper with her father, said that while the recent impacts won't last, "we've been given a massive opportunity to boost the economy by investing in green industries".
"Our paper shows that the actual effect of lockdown on the climate is small," she explained.
"The important thing to recognise 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."
For recovery to be successful, co-author Prof Corinne Le Quéré from the University of East Anglia says cities need to encourage cycling and walking, and all cars would need to be electric.
Prof Foster is hopeful that we can meet the challenges: "Disasters are often historically the time of biggest change.
"For once government, industry and public voices are all pretty aligned that green jobs and green investments are the way to build back better."
"We just need to do it."
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