New Delhi (NVI): The global COVID-19 induced lockdown has cut emissions of many greenhouse gases but had little impact on the continued rise in atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2), the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said.
According to the WMO Greenhouse Gas Bulletin, the carbon dioxide levels continued to rise in 2019 and the annual global average breached the significant threshold of 410 parts per million. This continued to rise in 2020.
“Carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere for centuries and in the ocean for even longer. The last time the Earth experienced a comparable concentration of CO2 was 3-5 million years ago, when the temperature was 2-3°C warmer and sea level was 10-20 meters higher than now. But there weren’t 7.7 billion inhabitants,” WMO Secretary-General Professor Petteri Taalas said in a statement.
During the most intense period of the lockdown, CO2 emissions may have been reduced by up to 17 per cent globally due to the confinement of the population, as per the estimates of Global Carbon Project.
“As the duration and severity of confinement measures remain unclear, the prediction of the total annual emission reduction over 2020 is very uncertain,” it added.
However, the preliminary estimates indicate a reduction in the annual global emission between 4.2 per cent and 7.5 per cent.
But an emissions reduction at this scale will not cause atmospheric CO2 to go down, the WMO warned.
“Carbon dioxide levels will continue to go up, and while the rate of growth will be slightly reduced by the fall in emissions, it will have no more effect than the changes seen from year to year as a result of natural variability in the system,” it said.
Furthermore, CO2 once released into the atmosphere from processes such as burning fossil fuels for power, transport and industry, as well as deforestation and agriculture, greenhouse gases trap heat.
This pushes up global temperatures and drives more extreme weather, melting ice and rising sea levels, as well as making the oceans more acidic, WMO added.
Taalas further said that, “We breached the global threshold of 400 parts per million in 2015. And just four years later, we crossed 410 ppm. Such a rate of increase has never been seen in the history of our records. The lockdown-related fall in emissions is just a tiny blip on the long-term graph. We need a sustained flattening of the curve.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic is not a solution for climate change,” he said.
However, it does provide us with a platform for more sustained and ambitious climate action to reduce emissions to net zero through a complete transformation of our industrial, energy and transport systems. The needed changes are economically affordable and technically possible and would affect our everyday life only marginally. It is to be welcomed that a growing number of countries and companies have committed themselves to carbon neutrality. There is no time to lose,” Taalas added.