Story at a glance

  • Lockdowns caused a 17 percent decline in emissions in April compared with the previous year.
  • As the world’s economies began to reopen, greenhouse gas emissions increased by early June and were within 5 percent of 2019 levels.
  • 2020 emissions overall are expected to decline by 4 to 7 percent compared to last year’s levels.

Greenhouse gas concentrations in the Earth’s atmosphere still reached record highs this year despite an emissions dip caused by coronavirus lockdowns, according to a United Nations report released Wednesday. 

“Greenhouse gas concentrations - which are already at their highest levels in 3 million years - have continue to rise,” Petteri Taalas, secretary-general of the World Meteorological Organization, said in the United in Science 2020 report


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“And now 2016-2020 is set to be the warmest five year period on record. This report shows that whilst many aspects of our lives have been disrupted in 2020, climate change has continued unabated,” he said. 

The report claims that worldwide coronavirus lockdowns had an immediate effect on greenhouse gas emissions, with daily levels in April 2020 declining by 17 percent compared to 2019. 

But the reduction was short-lived. 

As the world’s economies began to reopen, greenhouse gas emissions increased by early June and were within 5 percent of 2019 levels.

Daily CO2 emissions at their lowest point in April were approximately at the level they were in 2006, and 2020 emissions overall are expected to decline by 4 to 7 percent compared to last year’s levels, according to the U.N. report. 

Key monitoring stations around the world found the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere increased from about 411 parts per million (ppm) in July 2019 to 414 ppm in July 2020. 

Researchers say global temperatures from 2016-20 are expected to be the warmest on record with an average global mean surface temperature of 1.1 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. The 2016 Paris Agreement, signed by 189 countries, vowed to work towards keeping global warming to just 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. In the next five years, there’s a 1 in 4 chance of experiencing a year hot enough to put the global temperature beyond that target, according to the report. 

The report also says global fossil CO2 emissions rose 62 percent from 1990 to 2019, sea level rise is accelerating due to polar ice melt and glacier and snowmelt are threatening the water supply for billions of people. 

“Never before has it been so clear that we need long term, inclusive, clean transitions to tackle the climate crisis and achieve sustainable development,” Antonio Guterres, U.N. secretary-general, said in the report. 

“We must turn the recovery from the pandemic into a real opportunity to build a better future,” he said. “We need science, solidarity and solutions.  

Published on Sep 09, 2020