Environment

Atmospheric CO2 soars to record heights in spite of global pandemic

Atmospheric CO2 soars to recor...
While the coronavirus pandemic has led to a decline in carbon emissions in some areas, the effect is expected to be short-lived
While the coronavirus pandemic has led to a decline in carbon emissions in some areas, the effect is expected to be short-lived
View 2 Images
While the coronavirus pandemic has led to a decline in carbon emissions in some areas, the effect is expected to be short-lived
1/2
While the coronavirus pandemic has led to a decline in carbon emissions in some areas, the effect is expected to be short-lived
Chart plotting CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere
2/2
Chart plotting CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere

The wheels we humans have set in motion concerning carbon dioxide emissions and climate change are going to take some stopping, and the latest data from Hawaii's Mauna Loa Observatory are another clear indicator of this. Scientists there have logged record concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere, in line with a steady trend that defies even the widespread and stringent slowdown in global activity as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Scientists have been monitoring the concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from Hawaii since 1958, and have plotted a steadily accelerating upward curve in that time. Measured as parts per million (ppm), concentrations of below 350 ppm are what experts consider safe to preserve a livable planet, but data from monitoring stations has shown we are now well beyond that point.

During the 1960s when carbon concentrations were in the low 300s ppm, levels rose gradually at a rate of around 0.9 ppm per year. Fast-forward to the 2010 to 2019 period, and concentrations increased at a rate of 2.4 ppm per year, indicating that upward trend is only accelerating.

In May last year, scientists at the Mauna Loa Observatory recorded an atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration of 415.26 ppm. This was a level never reached before, but has been upstaged just 12 months later with a new reading of 416.21 ppm. Using ice core records to measure CO2 concentrations across the planet's history, scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) confirm these levels have not been seen on Earth in 800,000 years.

Chart plotting CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere
Chart plotting CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere

As a very separate phenomenon, the lockdowns spurred by the global spread of the coronavirus have led to significant reductions in some types of air pollution, namely harmful nitrogen dioxide and small particulate matter. This has been driven by a slowdown in air travel, road traffic and industrial activity, but the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) notes that the global energy mix has remained the same, with around two thirds generated by burning fossil fuels.

While the pandemic is causing dips in carbon emissions in some locations, these are expected to be short-lived, and with the same underlying energy infrastructure the UNEP says that "none of the fundamentals" have changed. And without a serious transformation on this front, we are unlikely to undo the cumulative effects of decades worth of human-generated carbon emissions entering the atmosphere.

“Without fundamental shifts in global energy production, we should have no reason to expect a lasting reduction in emissions,” says UNEP climate change expert Niklas Hagelberg. “COVID-19 instead provides us a chance to take stock of the risks we are taking in our unsustainable relationship with our environment and seize the opportunity to rebuild our economies in more environmentally responsible ways."

Source: United Nations Environment Programme

23 comments
Kurt Persson
So are measuring CO2 in the atmosphere or CO2 leaking from the volcano?
Colin
So, what is the estimated annual human-caused contribution of CO2 to the atmosphere? It’s about 3-4%. And those ice core studies, they demonstrated that earth atmosphere temperature increases preceded CO2 concentration increases, not the other way around. CO2 is not the control for earth’s atmospheric temperature.
buzzclick
It's striking that many readers, who are particularly concerned with science, refuse to accept the risky anthropomorphic changes to the ecosphere of Earth no matter how much evidence is shown to them. They really need to get their heads out of their butts and be more objective. But of course, they'll turn around and say that they're the objective ones and that science and technology will take care of everything and continue living in denial. Full speed ahead.
RobWoods
I'm always so relieved and glad to read about increased CO2 levels increasing, as hopefully this will result in a warmer climate in Canada, like it was millions of years ago when tropical forests and dinosaurs roamed the far north.
Broadlands
There is no way that CO2 will stop rising simply because we cannot lower carbon emissions instantly, even with a pandemic. Emissions will continue to increase until the impossible goal of zero (net-zero) is attained. By then the atmosphere could be as much as 500 ppm. The only way that can be lowered permanently is through industrial carbon capture and store technology, but it is inadequate to store the huge amounts needed to make a difference to the climate. When we realize that we can move forward with innovative infrastructure to adapt to whatever direction the climate decides to go.
Robert in Vancouver
Obviously, human activity has little to no impact the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. And equally obvious, CO2 has little to no impact on global warming, oh I mean climate change.
Pablo
I'm moving back east and buying a house with a coal furnace...
peteepositive
There will always be climate change, just as there always has been. The idea of taxing the world financially will do anything positive is nonsense. The world is 75% water, why arent we using hydrogen? If we ran our engines on gasoline fumes, instead of running it wet, we would reduce polution at tailpipes by 85%. The answer is, ONLY money can fix it, and why we dont go sensible on polution. Cant own all the water, or make money off gas, if it is getting 300-600 mpg. I am sure there are other test, debunking this reported CO2 test.
paul314
I wonder if some of the same people who say there's no climate change are also the ones saying that Covid-19 is no worse than the flu.
ljaques
So, a rise in CO2 during the pandemic (while global production is at a super minimum) isn't enough for them to realize that it =ain't= anthropogenic? Mother Nature (organic science which we don't even come close to understanding yet) controls the gas balances in the air, folks.