Climate-heating gases have reached record levels in the atmosphere despite the global lockdowns caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the UN’s World Meteorological Organization has said. There is estimated to have been a cut in emissions of between 4.2% and 7.5% in 2020 due to the shutdown of travel and other activities. But the WMO said this was a “tiny blip” in the continuous buildup of greenhouse gases in the air caused by human activities, and less than the natural variation seen year to year.
The data shows action to cut emissions is currently far from what is needed to avoid the worst impacts of the climate emergency. Scientists calculate that emissions must fall by half by 2030 to give a good chance of limiting global heating to 1.5C, beyond which hundreds of millions of people will face more heatwaves, droughts, floods and poverty.
“The lockdown-related fall in emissions is just a tiny blip on the long-term graph. We need a sustained flattening of the curve,” said Petteri Taalas, the WMO secretary-general. “We breached the global [annual] threshold of 400ppm in 2015 and, just four years later, we have crossed 410ppm. Such a rate of increase has never been seen in the history of our records. CO2 remains in the atmosphere for centuries. The last time the Earth experienced a comparable concentration was 3m-5m years ago, when the temperature was 2-3C warmer and sea level was 10-20 metres higher than now. But there weren’t 7.7 billion inhabitants.”
Talaas said a “complete transformation of our industrial, energy and transport systems” was needed. “The changes are economically affordable and technically possible and would affect our everyday life only marginally,” he said. “It is welcome that a growing number of countries and companies have committed themselves to carbon neutrality. There is no time to lose.”
The word missing from Talaas' statement is profitability