COVID-19 doing little to slow climate change, WMO report reveals
As much of the world went into lockdown due to the novel coronavirus in early 2020, scientists observed some notable declines in air pollution and carbon dioxide emissions. A few months on, we are learning more and more about how this fits into the overall picture of climate change, with a new report from the World Meteorological Organization revealing concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are continuing to soar to record levels, with no signs of slowing down.
The coronavirus lockdowns that brought much of global society to a standstill this year led to a sharp decline in global carbon emissions. This drop was described as “extreme” by scientists analyzing the trend in May, with daily global carbon dioxide emissions dropping by as much as 17 percent at the height of the stay-at-home measures.
However, analysis published around the same time showed that atmospheric carbon dioxide had continued to hit record highs. While seemingly counter-intuitive, these revelations actually served as a useful indicator of how it will take more than short-term corrections to reverse the long-term trend of global warming, given the considerable momentum built up after decades of largely unchecked emissions.
A new report, titled United in Science 2020 and compiled by scientists from the UN, the Global Carbon Project, the UK Met Office and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, illustrates the continuation of this trend, even while much of the world still grapples with the pandemic and its disruption to everyday life.
Scientists measure the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere as parts per million (ppm), with levels below 350 ppm considered to be safe for a livable planet. The new report reveals a number of new records at monitoring stations around the world, with levels of 414.38 ppm measured in July at Mauna Loa in Hawaii, up from 411.74 ppm last year, and 410.04 ppm being measured at Cape Grim in Australia, up from 407.83 in July of last year.
“This has been an unprecedented year for people and planet,” says UN Secretary-General António Guterres. “The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted lives worldwide. At the same time, the heating of our planet and climate disruption has continued apace. Never before has it been so clear that we need long-term, inclusive, clean transitions to tackle the climate crisis and achieve sustainable development. We must turn the recovery from the pandemic into a real opportunity to build a better future. We need science, solidarity and solutions.”
The full report can be accessed online here.