Global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are likely to fall by 4% to 7% in 2020 due to coronavirus disease (Covid-19) lockdown and associated slowdown, according to a United in Science 2020 report released by UN secretary general Antonio Guterres on Wednesday.
During the peak of Covid-19 lockdown in early April, the daily global CO2 emissions dropped to 2006 levels falling by 17% compared to 2019. By early June however daily fossil fuel CO2 emissions returned to within 5% below 2019 levels.
The exact decline in CO2 emissions this year will depend on the trajectory of the pandemic and government responses to address it, the report said.
The Energy Review 2020 by the International Energy Agency released in April also had similar estimates. It had said that global CO2 emissions are expected to decline by 8%, or almost 2.6 gigatonnes (Gt), to levels of 10 years ago due to massive fall in energy demand and economic shock this year.
Such a year-on year reduction in CO2 emissions would be the largest ever, six times larger than the fall recorded after the 2008 financial crisis and twice as large as all previous reductions since world war II.
But this dip in CO2 emissions hasn't made any impact on global CO2 concentrations.
Independent experts said the Covid-19 lockdown should be a learning for the world on how it could reduce emissions in coming years but ensuring that the economy is not disrupted.
The world is set to see its warmest five years on record and is not on track to meet the Paris Agreement targets to keep global temperature increase well below 2 degree C or at 1.5 degree C above pre-industrial levels, the report drafted by multiple agencies including World Meteorological Organization, Global Carbon Project, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission said on Wednesday.
Atmospheric CO2 concentrations made new records in 2020. For example, benchmark stations in the WMO Global Atmosphere Watch (GAW) network reported CO2 concentrations above 410 parts per million (ppm) during the first half of 2020, with Mauna Loa (Hawaii) and Cape Grim (Tasmania) at 414.38 ppm and 410.04 ppm, respectively, in July 2020, up from 411.74 ppm and 407.83 ppm in July 2019.
"Greenhouse gas concentrations - which are already at their highest levels in 3 million years - have continued to rise. Meanwhile, large swathes of Siberia have seen a prolonged and remarkable heatwave during the first half of 2020, which would have been very unlikely without anthropogenic climate change. And now 2016–2020 is set to be the warmest five-year period on record. This report shows that whilst many aspects of our lives have been disrupted in 2020, climate change has continued unabated," said WMO Secretary-General, Professor Petteri Taalas.
The Emissions Gap Report of 2019 referred to by the United in Science report has said that the cuts in global emissions required per year from 2020 to 2030 are about 3% to meet the 2 degree C target and more than 7% per year on average to meet the 1.5 degree C goal under the Paris Agreement.
The average global temperature for 2016–2020 is expected to be the warmest on record, about 1.1 degree C above pre-industrial levels and 0.24 degree C warmer than the global average temperature for 2011-2015, the report added.
The Covid 19 pandemic has had significant impacts on the global observing systems, which, in turn, have affected the quality of forecasts and other weather, climate and ocean-related services, the report said.
"This has been an unprecedented year for people and the planet. The Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted lives worldwide. At the same time, the heating of our planet and climate disruption has continued apace. Never before has it been so clear that we need long-term, inclusive, clean transitions to tackle the climate crisis and achieve sustainable development," UN Secretary-General António Guterres has said in the foreword of the report.
Climate scientists said a temporary fall in emissions will not make a difference to atmospheric CO2 concentrations. "Carbon dioxide has a long life-time. So even if we stop all emission right now, the CO2 in the atmosphere will remain for several hundreds of years. Around 40% of the CO2 emitted now will remain even after 100 years, and 20% will remain even after a thousand years. This is why a temporary reduction in daily emissions has not changed the climate scenario. The damage is already done. What we are trying to do is stop it from worsening further," explained Roxy Mathew Koll, climate scientist at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology.
"Covid-19 led lockdowns across geographies resulted in temporary reduction in emissions, which will have very little impact on long term CO2 trajectory. We should take this period as a learning and continue to keep the emissions down over coming years under the slower than expected demand and through aggressive transition to cleaner and sustainable forms of energy such as renewables," said Sunil Dahiya, analyst, Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air.
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