Energy & Environment

CO2, methane emissions surged 2020 despite pandemic: NOAA

Carbon dioxide and methane emissions surged in 2020 even amid coronavirus shutdowns, according to research from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released Wednesday.

Data collected at remote NOAA sampling locations indicated the global surface average for CO2 was 412.5 parts per million last year, a 2.6 ppm increase. The global increase rate constituted the fifth-highest on record for a single year, after 1987, 1998, 2015 and 2016, according to NOAA. 

“Human activity is driving climate change,” said Colm Sweeney, assistant deputy director of the Global Monitoring Lab (GML). “If we want to mitigate the worst impacts, it’s going to take a deliberate focus on reducing fossil fuels emissions to near zero – and even then we’ll need to look for ways to further remove greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere.”

The NOAA’s sample analysis for 2020 also indicated methane’s atmospheric burden saw a significant increase in 2020. While the compound is less abundant than carbon dioxide, it is nearly 30 times more potent at trapping heat within the atmosphere.

Atmospheric methane’s annual increase for 2020 was 14.7 parts per billion, the largest in the 37 years NOAA has measured it.

“Although increased fossil emissions may not be fully responsible for the recent growth in methane levels, reducing fossil methane emissions are an important step toward mitigating climate change,” GML research chemist Ed Dlugokencky said in a statement.

NOAA’s Global Monitoring Laboratory typically releases a preliminary estimate of greenhouse gases’ global annual atmospheric increases in early April based on air sample measurements collected at 40 global sites.

NOAA noted that preliminary estimates are typically slightly higher than final calculations, but that it expects the increase to remain among the largest ever recorded.


The research comes shortly after hundreds of environmental groups petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency to remove an exemption for methane and ethane from emissions limits.

Tags National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
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