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'No Time to Lose for Climate Action': Atmospheric CO2 Continued to Rise in 2020 Despite Covid-19 Lockdowns

The World Meteorological Organization called for "more sustained and ambitious climate action to reduce emissions to net zero through a compete transformation of our industrial, energy, and transport systems."

PacifiCorp's coal fired power plant burns coal outside of Castle Dale, Utah on November 14, 2019. (Photo: George Frey/AFP via Getty Images)

PacifiCorp's coal fired power plant burns coal outside of Castle Dale, Utah on November 14, 2019. (Photo: George Frey/AFP via Getty Images)

The Covid-19 pandemic provoked a global economic slowdown that led to a slight reduction in carbon dioxide emissions in 2020, but this year's drop "has had no measurable impact on" the ongoing buildup of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere.

"CO2 concentrations are going up and will continue to increase, unless we stop the fossil society and replace it with a just and humane global democracy."
—David Fopp, Stockholm University

That's according to a new report published Monday by the United Nations' World Meteorological Organization (WMO), which advocated for responding to the climate emergency with bold action that includes a thorough reconfiguration of our economic, energy, and transportation systems.  

While the coronavirus-driven restrictions on commerce have been a life-saving public health intervention, "the lockdown-related fall in emissions is just a tiny blip on the long-term graph," said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas.

The report estimated that, as a result of the temporary shutdown of air travel and other activities, the total reduction of annual global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in 2020 will be between 4.2% and 7.5%. But that has had a negligible impact on GHG concentrations—the result of cumulative past and current emissions.

"CO2 remains in the atmosphere for centuries," Taalas pointed out, meaning that actions taken this year to curb the spread of a deadly infectious disease are "not a solution for climate change." 

As Grist reported in April, "the world is still on track to release 95% of the carbon dioxide emitted in a typical year... even as we're stuck at home." One reason why is that, as Matt Huber explained on the Unequal Carbon Footprints website, "the bulk of emissions are generated by the industrial sector operated by very large and profitable corporations."

"If we are going to solve climate change," Huber added, "we should start by thinking about how to reform the behaviors of these actors first."

Although the global response to the pandemic is not an adequate way to approach the climate emergency, it "does provide us with a platform for more sustained and ambitious climate action to reduce emissions to net zero through a complete transformation of our industrial, energy, and transport systems," Taalas said.

As The Guardian reported Monday, "Scientists calculate that emissions must fall by half by 2030 to give a good chance of limiting global heating to 1.5C, beyond which hundreds of millions of people will face more heatwaves, droughts, floods, and poverty."

Taalas stressed that achieving carbon neutrality is "economically affordable and technically possible and would affect our everyday life only marginally."

"There is no time to lose," he added. 

In a video based on the findings of the report also released Monday, the WMO repeated its "no time to lose for climate action" message as it called for strong efforts worldwide to address the emissions crisis:

"We need to stop the emissions [and] keep the fossil fuels in the ground," tweeted scholar-activist David Fopp.

"CO2 concentrations are going up and will continue to increase," he noted, "unless we stop the fossil society and replace it with a just and humane global democracy."

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