UN: COVID-19 lockdowns slashed pollutants, not CO2 levels

GENEVA (AP) — A slowdown in industrial activity linked to the coronavirus pandemic has cut emissions of pollutants and heat-trapping greenhouse gases, but hasn’t reduced their record levels in the atmosphere, the United Nations weather agency said on Monday.

The World Meteorological Organization pointed to a record-setting surge of carbon dioxide emissions in recent years, but warned that any reduction in levels as a result of a pandemic-related industrial slowdown will take years to materialize. The organization also said this can best be achieved if countries are able to cut their greenhouse gas emissions to zero.

“The lockdown-related fall in emissions is just a tiny blip on the long-term graph. We need a sustained flattening of the curve,” WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said Monday after releasing the latest edition of the organization’s annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin. “The COVID-19 pandemic is not a solution for climate change.”

WMO cited estimates from the Global Carbon Project indicating that daily carbon dioxide emissions could have fallen by as much as 17% worldwide during the peak of the lockdown period when people in many countries were forced to stay home. But figures for the whole year remain unclear, and WMO said preliminary estimates indicate a reduction in annual global emissions of between 4.2% and 7.5%.

The lockdown has cut emissions of many pollutants and greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide. But the change in CO2 concentrations – the result of cumulative past and current emissions – is in fact no bigger than the normal year-to-year fluctuations in the carbon cycle and in the amount of carbon being soaked up by vegetation and oceans.

“There has been a slight plateau in the use of carbon, which is a slightly positive thing,” Taalas told a video news conference, saying removing it from the atmosphere is “a very slow process.”

WMO said carbon-dioxide levels spiked again in 2019 to what Taalas called a “record rate of increase,” rising to a concentration of 410 parts per million just four years after topping 400 parts per million.

Taalas praised efforts by some countries to reach carbon neutrality in coming years.

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