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Despite the rumours, pandemic-caused restrictions have not been a ‘temporary reprieve’ or ‘silver lining’ for climate change. 

In this infographic, Kiwi science communicator and climate expert John Lang introduces the world to a new climate character: the name’s ‘Brick’. Together, they explain why temporary CO2 emission reductions caused by COVID-19 will not slow down global warming — unless, that is, another set of characters, namely governments, decide to intervene and make the reductions permanent.


So — you might be thinking, why is this relevant to NZ?

Personally, I think it’s a good way to break the issue down for the average Joe. Or for the average Judith. When Greta Thunberg says we have less than 10 years, Judith, she does not mean we have 10 years to save the planet. She means that we have 10 years to take the collective actions necessary to slash greenhouse gas emissions and give humanity a two-thirds chance of maintaining temperatures at about 1.5°C of global warming — the temperature target that science recommends, that countries have signed up to and that people want. 

And, just to clarify, Judith, it is not the planet that’s at risk; the risk is rather, as climate scientist Kate Marvel so chillingly puts it, ‘not about what climate change will do to us, but what we’ll do to each other because of it.’

New Zealand’s Brick

In NZ, the brick we plonked into the atmosphere in 2018 was 79 million tonnes of CO2e. In other words, our country is still putting the equivalent weight of about 1700 Titanics of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere every year. Much of these emissions are of course not just from carbon dioxide (only about 44%), but rather from methane (about 43%) — a much more potent, but much more short-lived greenhouse gas. 

To shrink the brick in NZ, it seems pretty simple. We need to prioritise two things: work out how to decrease the CH4 from the digestive systems of our cows and the CO2 from the cars we drive. But there is plenty of other stuff we could also be doing to help. For climate change, for our economy and for current and future Kiwis.

So in about three weeks, I will write a pre-election piece for Pure Advantage on what has been achieved over the past three years by the Ardern-led Government, but much more importantly, what ‘the right stuff’ for the next government has to look like to live up to our generation’s so-called ‘nuclear-free moment’. To shrink the brick and grow the economy in the Time of Covid. 

Bold decisions and legislation passed by Ardern and co mean our greenhouse gas emissions curve finally starts bending downwards in the mid-2020s. The next government will determine how steeply.


The above infographic was created by science communicator and climate expert John Lang who works for the UK-based Energy and Climate Intelligence, and is founder of the e-nvironmentalist and Consult Climate. If you’d like to use it, or any of its contents, please drop him an email — he will be able to provide it in various formats. 

John would like to thank climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe for unwittingly introducing him to Brick, and for kindly offering feedback on an early version of the graphic. Any errors, he insists, are his and his alone.

European Commission, ‘Supporting climate action through the EU budget’, 2020

Global Carbon Project, Global Carbon Budget 2019
Hepburn et al, Will COVID-19 fiscal recovery packages accelerate or retard progress on climate change?, Oxford Review of Economic Policy, 2020
IEA, ‘Batteries and hydrogen technology: keys for a clean energy future’, 2020
IEA, Sustainable Recovery: World Energy Outlook Special Report, 2020
IMF, World Economic Outlook: The Great Lockdown, 2020
IPCC, Special Report on 1.5°C, 2018
Le Quéré et al, Temporary reduction in daily global CO2 emissions during the COVID-19 forced confinement, Nature Climate Change, 2020
Liebreich, ‘Energy Efficiency Key To Covid Recovery’, BloombergNEF, 2020
Our World in Data, CO₂ and Greenhouse Gas Emissions, 2020
Sherwood et al, An assessment of Earth’s climate sensitivity using multiple lines of evidence, Reviews of Geophysics, 2020

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