Coronavirus (COVID) lockdowns have slowed carbon emissions and driven down pollution worldwide. But that doesn’t mean CO2 levels are dropping. In fact, it’s just the opposite.
In May, the world reached record levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere: 417 parts per million. That’s compared to 414.8 ppm from the previous May. The new number, recorded by Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii, was announced by scientists from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and NOAA.
The rate of increase during 2020 does not appear to reflect a reduction in pollution emissions due to the sharp, worldwide economic slowdown in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
The reason is that the drop in emissions would need to be large enough to stand out from natural CO2 variability, caused by how plants and soils respond to seasonal and annual variations of temperature, humidity, soil moisture, etc.
These natural variations are large, and so far the emissions reductions associated with COVID-19 do not stand out.
If emissions reductions of 20 to 30 percent were sustained for six to 12 months, then the rate of increase of CO2 measured at Mauna Loa would be slowed.
Well-understood physics tells us that the increasing levels of greenhouse gases are heating Earth’s surface, melting ice and accelerating sea-level rise.
By some counts, the coronavirus lockdowns caused a 17% drop in daily global CO2 emissions. But that’s more like turning a tap to slow down water in a bathtub soon to overflow.
The coronavirus crisis has slowed emissions, but not enough to show up perceptibly at Mauna Lo, what will matter much more is the trajectory we take coming out of this situation.
Reference- Scripps Institution of Oceanography Report, Earth Day Network Newsletter