At the start of the lockdown in the UK, we released an article outlining ways in which the temporary drop in carbon emissions resulting from COVID-19 pandemic could become permanent – read the article here.
Later in the year, when lockdown measures started to ease, we took a look at some of the warnings that suggested the drop in carbon emissions might not become permanent – read the article here.
These warnings anticipated that CO2 emissions may revert to pre-pandemic levels and therefore have no impact on a long-term decrease in carbon emissions. This prediction seems to have been borne out based on reports this week stating that the global level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere continues to be at record levels despite the global lockdowns caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Drop in emissions in 2020 is a “tiny blip”
Measures to curb the spread of the pandemic did indeed cut emissions of many pollutants and greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide. During the most intense period of the shutdown earlier this year, daily CO2 emissions were down by up to 17 percent globally. The restriction of travel during lockdowns is estimated to equate to a cut in emissions of between 4.2% and 7.5% in 2020.
But according to the latest report from the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) the change in CO2 concentrations, resulting from cumulative past and current emissions, is no more than the expected year on year variations. The WMO described the impact of the lockdowns as a “tiny blip” in the continuous build-up of greenhouse gases in the air caused by human activities.
C02 will continue to rise
The WMO report states that the last time carbon dioxide levels were as high as seen in 2019 was three to five million years ago, when the temperature was 2°C to 3°C warmer and sea level was 10 to 20 metres higher than now.
WMO Secretary General Professor Petteri Taalas, said: “We breached the global threshold of 400 parts per million in 2015. And just four years later (in 2019), we crossed 410 ppm. Such a rate of increase has never been seen in the history of our records. The WMO went on to say that an emissions reduction on this scale will not cause atmospheric CO2 to go down and that CO2 will continue to go up, though at a slightly reduced pace.
Carbon dioxide levels hit new highs last year and are expected to keep growing in 2020, despite coronavirus-related restrictions that forced a global industrial slowdown. The coronavirus crisis has not curbed record concentrations of the greenhouse gases that are trapping heat in the atmosphere, raising temperatures, causing sea levels to rise and driving more extreme weather.
Covid 19 is therefore not a solution for climate change but the pandemic does provide a platform for more sustained and ambitious climate action. It is only by a complete transformation of industrial, energy and transport systems and persistent action and determination of countries that emissions can be reduced to net zero.