COVID lockdowns reduced emissions by 17% in April. But overall, long-term buildup of gases unaffected. Carbon dioxide levels at highest in 3 million years.
Concentrations of greenhouse gases in the Earth's atmosphere hit a record high this year, a United Nations report showed on Wednesday, as an economic slowdown amid the coronavirus pandemic had little lasting effect. The sharp, but short, dip earlier this year represented only a blip in the build-up of climate-warming carbon dioxide.
Even if 2020 emissions are lower than last year's output by up to 7%, as expected, what is released will still contribute to the long-term accumulation since the industrial era.
"The consequences of our failure to get to grips with the climate emergency are everywhere," said U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. "Whether we are tackling a pandemic or the climate crisis, it is clear that we need science, solidarity and decisive solutions."
Presenting the latest data on emissions, global temperatures and climate impacts on Earth's oceans and frozen regions, the report showed atmospheric concentration of CO2 hit 414.38 parts per million in July, compared with 411.74 ppm a year earlier. Scientists say they consider 350 ppm, breached in 1988, a safe limit. As CO2 levels have increased, global temperatures have also risen by about 1.1 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Scientists say a temperature rise beyond 1.5 or 2 degrees will lead to far worse impacts across the world, including droughts, stronger storms and extreme sea level rise.
"We are really only adapted and able to deal with a very small range of possible weather," Friederike Otto, a climate scientist at the University of Oxford, told Reuters. "Even if this is just perturbed a little bit, we come very quickly to the edges of what we as societies can deal with."
Climate change is expected to put hundreds of millions more people at risk of flooding. Access to fresh water is also projected to worsen. The number of people living in water-scarce areas by mid-century is now estimated to reach up to 3.2 billion, up from the previous estimate of about 1.9 billion.