Nov 24, 2020 - Science

WMO: Carbon dioxide levels continue to rise despite coronavirus lockdowns

A protestor wearing a face mask displays a placard reading 'Save The Earth' during the climate crisis protest in Seoul. Photo: Simon Shin/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
A protestor wearing a face mask displays a placard reading 'Save The Earth' during the climate crisis protest in Seoul. Photo: Simon Shin/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Although a slowdown in industrial activity due to the COVID-19 pandemic has helped cut emissions of many pollutants and greenhouse gases, it has not reduced record levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said on Monday.

Why it matters: Record levels of greenhouse gases are trapping heat in the atmosphere, increasing temperatures and driving more extreme weather, ice melt, sea-level rise and ocean acidification, the WMO said, noting that "carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere for centuries and in the ocean for even longer."

By the numbers: "Carbon dioxide levels saw another growth spurt in 2019 and the annual global average breached the significant threshold of 410 parts per million...The rise has continued in 2020," the WMO said, citing its Greenhouse Gas Bulletin.

  • During the height of the industrial slowdown due to the pandemic, the Global Carbon Project (GCP) estimated that daily CO2 emissions may have been reduced up to 17% globally compared to the mean level of daily CO2 emissions in 2019.
  • "As the duration and severity of the confinement measures remain unclear, it is very difficult to predict the total annual reduction in CO2 emissions for 2020; however, preliminary estimates anticipate a reduction of between 4.2% and 7.5% compared to 2019 levels," GCP noted.
  • "At the global scale, an emission reduction of this magnitude will not cause atmospheric CO2 levels to decrease; they will merely increase at a slightly reduced rate."

What they're saying: "COVID-19 pandemic is not a solution for climate change," WMO Secretary-General Professor Petteri Taalas said in a news release.

  • "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," he added.
  • "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."
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