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Climate change has not stopped for COVID-19: Emissions back on track to pre-pandemic levels



Global greenhouse gas emissions are back to their usual growing trend after falling at the beginning of the year when the world was largely on pause by the novel coronavirus, a new report has shown. Ultimately, the pandemic will likely have little impact on tackling climate change by the end of the year.

The United in Science report gives an update of the state of the global climate, carried out by several international organizations such as the United Nations and the World Meteorological Organization. The report highlighted the impacts of climate change, which are getting more severe across the world.

The global lockdowns led to a significant and immediate impact on greenhouse gas emissions, the report found, with daily levels in April being 17% lower compared to 2019. But the drop wasn’t maintained and emissions are back on their growing trend. The expectation for this year is a drop between 4% and 7%.

This report included data from greenhouse gas monitoring stations. The amount of CO2 measured in air samples increased from 411 parts per million (ppm) in July 2019 to 414ppm in July this year at the Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii. In Cape Grim station in Tasmania, concentrations went from 407ppm to 410ppm year to year.

“While emissions fell during the peak of the pandemic confinement measures, they have already mostly recovered to within 5 percent of the same period in 2019 and are likely to increase further,” António Guterres, secretary-general of the United Nations, said in a statement. “This report stresses that short-term lockdowns are no substitute for the sustained climate action that is needed.”

The gap between the actions to keep global warming under control and the current efforts to cut emissions is getting wider, the authors argued, claiming greenhouse gas emissions have to be urgently addressed. Exceeding those thresholds would mean more severe climate consequences all around the world.

Countries agreed in the Paris Agreement in 2015 to limit temperature growth to 2ºC, making efforts to keep the world from going beyond 1.5ºC. While this isn’t impossible, it would require a pandemic-sized carbon slowdown every year until the end of the decade, according to the report’s findings. Meanwhile, the impacts of climate change continue to accrue.

Global sea levels are rising at a much faster rate than previously recorded. The rate of increase was 4.8 millimeters per year between 2016 and 2020, an increase over the 4.1 millimeters recorded between 2011 and 2015, the report found. Sea-ice in the Artic is also declining faster, while the rising temperatures are causing droughts and heatwaves across the globe.

“This report shows that whilst many aspects of our lives have been disrupted in 2020, climate change has continued unabated,” said in a statement WMO Secretary-General, Professor Petteri Taalas. “Greenhouse gas concentrations – which are already at their highest levels in 3 million years – have continued to rise.”