United Nations agency says greenhouse gas emissions accumulating despite decline during lockdowns

United Nations agency says greenhouse gas emissions accumulating despite decline during lockdowns
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The coronavirus-related drop in emissions hasn’t made much of a dent in the amount of heat-trapping emissions accumulating in the atmosphere, according to a Monday report from a United Nations agency.

Researchers earlier this year predicted that emissions across the globe could drop by as much as 8 percent due to the virus-related lockdowns and slowing of daily activities.

But as carbon pollution remains trapped in the atmosphere for centuries, the report from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said the drop in emissions will have little impact on total concentrations.


“The lockdown has cut emissions of many pollutants and greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide. But any impact on CO2 concentrations - the result of cumulative past and current emissions - is in fact no bigger than the normal year to year fluctuations,” the report stated.

Emissions dropped by as much as 17 percent during the height of the pandemic, with planes grounded, ships docked and commutes dissolved as people worked from home and many businesses were shuttered.

However, the WMO referred to this year as a “tiny blip,” adding that since 1990 there has been a 45 percent increase in the warming effect on the climate due to greenhouse gases.

“We need a sustained flattening of the curve,” WMO Secretary General Professor Petteri Taalas said in a statement.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is not a solution for climate change. 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.”

Carbon emissions in the U.S. are believed to have been impacted by record-setting wildfires this year, offsetting the expected decrease from COVID-19 lockdowns by about 3 percent. Fires in California burned more than 4 million acres this year.

--Joseph Choi contributed to this report, which was updated at 1:07 p.m.