The pandemic in 2020 caused an abrupt change in the emission of anthropogenic aerosols and their precursors. We estimate the associated change in the aerosol radiative forcing at the top of the atmosphere and the surface. To that end, we perform new simulations with the CMIP6 global climate model EC-Earth3. The simulations use the here newly created data for the anthropogenic aerosol optical properties and an associated effect on clouds from the simple plumes parameterization (MACv2-SP), based on revised SO2 and NH3 emission scenarios. Our results highlight the small impact of the pandemic on the global aerosol radiative forcing in 2020 compared to the CMIP6 scenario SSP2‑4.5 of the order of +0.04 Wm−2, which is small compared to the natural year-to-year variability in the radiation budget. Natural variability also limits the ability to detect a meaningful regional difference in the anthropogenic aerosol radiative effects. We identify the best chances to find a significant change in radiation at the surface during cloud-free conditions for regions that were strongly polluted in the past years. The post-pandemic recovery scenarios indicate a spread in the aerosol forcing of −0.68 to −0.38 Wm−2 for 2050 relative to the pre-industrial, which translates to a difference of +0.05 to −0.25 Wm−2 compared to the 2050 baseline from SSP2‑4.5. This spread falls within the present-day uncertainty in aerosol radiative forcing and the CMIP6 spread in aerosol forcing at the end of the 21st century. We release the new MACv2-SP data for studies on the climate response to the pandemic and the recovery scenarios. Our 2050 forcing estimates suggest that sustained aerosol emission reductions during the post-pandemic recovery cause a stronger climate response than in 2020, i.e., there is a delayed influence of the pandemic on climate.
Fiedler, S., Wyser, K., Rogelj, J. and van Noije, T. (2021) in Atmospheric Research, Volume 264, 15 December 2021, 105866