Science

Pandemic-Driven Drop in CO 2 Emissions Imperceptible in Atmosphere


The world will experience a record drop in greenhouse gas emissions this year, but it will be barely perceptible in the atmosphere, according to an analysis released today by the Global Carbon Project.

In their annual examination of the global carbon budget, the team of international climate scientists determined that emissions will likely fall by 7% in 2020, a reduction unmatched in history. But the atmospheric buildup of CO2 will register around 2.5 parts per million this year, essentially matching growth rates of the last decade.

The dynamic points to the need for sustained emissions reductions, scientists said.

“We need to cut 1 [billion] to 2 billion tons every year in order to mitigate climate change in line with Paris goals,” said Pierre Friedlingstein, an author of the report and climate modeler at the University of Exeter. “The way to do that is not the way we did it in 2020. We don’t want to put everyone in lockdown.”

This year’s report finds a continuation of previous trends. Emissions growth slowed over the last decade, suggesting the world has made some progress greening the economy. But emissions have continued to increase in absolute terms every year. In 2019, global emissions from fossil fuels were roughly 36 billion tons, up 0.1% over 2018 levels.

Oceans and land-based carbon sinks like forests have continued to soak up CO2 at growing rates, capturing about half of what the world emits each year. But CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere have also accelerated steadily in recent decades. Last year, the atmospheric uptake of CO2 was 2.54 parts per million.

If there is a sliver of good news in this year’s findings, it is that 2020 shows that coordinated changes in social behavior can produce deep emissions reductions, said Corinne Le Quéré, a climate researcher at the University of East Anglia who contributed to the study.

“Emissions can fall with concerted action,” she said. “They fall straight away and therefore we need concerted action that is planned, that is good for health and good for the environment but involves investment that helps tackle climate change.”

Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from E&E News. E&E provides daily coverage of essential energy and environmental news at www.eenews.net.


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