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This past year, the global emission of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels has dropped by 17% compared to 2019 levels, as almost all countries have imposed lockdowns by April. This short blip was observed as the pandemic limited the operation of industries and international and local travel worldwide.
However, according to a published report, the emission levels had returned to around 5% lower than 2019 levels by early June. The World Meteorological Organization stated that while the 17% drop was unprecedented, “Climate change has not stopped for COVID-19.”
Although the overall rate of emissions is expected to be lower this year than 2019, this will not be able to stop or even slow climate change. It is because humans continue to emit carbon dioxide and other gases, although at a slower rate than last year. According to the Global Carbon Project, it is projected that carbon emissions this year will fall between 4% to 7% compared to 2019 levels. It is the first decrease since 2016 but will unlikely dent the effect of greenhouse gases already present in the atmosphere.
From 2016 to 2020, the world has been experiencing the warmest five-year period on record. This warm temperature is expected to worsen in the years to come. According to Petteri Taalas, secretary-general of the WMO, some greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide stay in the air for as long as a century, causing a long term climate change. Because of this, disasters such as hurricanes, heatwaves, tornadoes, and wildfires, will continue at least until 2060. It is because of the gases already in the atmosphere.
In the report, scientists noted that emissions must decrease yearly by 7% on average to limit the rise of global temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, as set in the 2015 Paris climate agreement. The WMO report says that as of now, global temperatures have already increased by 1 degree Celsius and in the next five years, there is a 25% chance of going past the 1.5 degrees Celsius limit. Effectively, to keep global temperatures from rising above 1.5 degrees, global gas emissions need to be cut by half in 2030. Existing technologies can already be used to reach this target, but shifting to these has proven to be politically tricky.
“Never before has it been so clear that we need long-term, inclusive, clean transitions to tackle the climate crisis. We need science, solidarity, and solutions”Antonio Guterres, United Nations Secretary General