A sustainable global pandemic recovery could slash predicted greenhouse gas emissions by up to a quarter by 2030 and accelerate the momentum towards meeting the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming by 2 degrees Celsius, a United Nations study has found.
The coronavirus led to flights being grounded and a fall in road traffic as movement restrictions were imposed to stop its spread, causing a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.
However, despite this year's dip, the world is on course for a rise in temperature "in excess of 3 degrees Celsius this century," the UN Environment Programme warned in a new report.
"As the world deals with the ongoing impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, the climate crisis has not gone away. Greenhouse gas emissions hit a new high in 2019," Inger Andersen, executive director of UNEP, said.
"The year 2020 is on course to be the warmest on record. Wildfires, storms and droughts continue to wreak havoc while glaciers melt at unprecedented rates," she added.
Global policymakers have pushed for a more sustainable post-pandemic recovery, using the flatlining of emissions this year as a base case scenario for future planning.
European Central Bank president and former International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde sounded a warning note to investors last month to deal with the risks stemming from climate change.
Ms Lagarde said companies that fail to prioritise climate goals could face possible exclusion from the bank's bond-buying programme.
Former Bank of England governor Mark Carney, who is now a UN special envoy for climate change, said reducing emissions represented "the greatest commercial opportunity of our time" and asked investors to step in to help companies meet their net zero emissions targets.
Several fossil fuel companies such as Shell and BP have written off billions worth of hydrocarbon assets in 2020, as they pivot towards a net zero future.
Japan and South Korea became two of the latest major economies this year to aim for net zero emission targets by 2050.
The UNEP report recommended prioritising "green fiscal recovery" including direct support for zero-emissions technologies and infrastructure, reducing fossil fuel subsidies, no new coal plants and promoting nature-based solutions – including large-scale landscape restoration and reforestation.
"The pandemic is a warning that we must urgently shift from our destructive development path, which is driving the three planetary crises of climate change, nature loss and pollution," said Ms Andersen.
"But it is clearly also a major opportunity. I urge governments, businesses and individuals – particularly those with the greatest climate footprint – to take this opportunity to protect our climate and nature for decades to come," she added.