Economic lockdowns did little to curb record levels of greenhouse gases, UN agency warns

The last time the Earth experienced a comparable concentration of CO2 was 3-5 million years ago

Despite sectors of the global economy working from home the COVID-19 ‘industrial slowdown’ has not actually contributed to slowing greenhouse gas emissions like you might have thought.

After a record climb in greenhouse gas concentrations in 2019, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) calls the lockdown-related fall in emissions a “tiny blip.”

“The last time the Earth experienced a comparable concentration of CO2 was 3-5 million years ago,” says WMO.

“The last time the Earth experienced a comparable concentration of CO2 was 3-5 million years ago, when the temperature was 2-3°C warmer and sea level was 10-20 meters higher than now. But there weren’t 7.7 billion inhabitants,” said WMO Secretary-General Professor Petteri Taalas.

The UN agency released its findings Monday, essentially saying that global lockdowns have cut emissions of many pollutants and greenhouse gases but it would be no bigger than normal annual fluctuations.

Carbon dioxide levels saw another growth spurt in 2019 and the annual global average breached the significant threshold of 410 parts per million, according to the WMO Greenhouse Gas Bulletin. The rise has continued in 2020.

Carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere for centuries.

Since 1990, there has been a 45% increase in total radiative forcing – the warming effect on the climate – by long-lived greenhouse gases, with CO2 accounting for four fifths of this.

“Carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere for centuries and in the ocean for even longer,” said Taalas.

The Greenhouse Gas Bulletin provides details on the atmospheric abundance of the main long-lived greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. The annual report measures the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, all contributing to the warming of planet earth.