Climate change: CO2 levels break record despite lockdown

Climate change: CO2 levels break record despite lockdown

KOLKATA (India) — Turns out the industrial slowdown due to the covid-19 pandemic did not as much curb greenhouse gas emission as it is thought to be.

While the pandemic restrictions have halted traffic, stopped emitting industries, parked airplanes, and docked vessels evidently, it has not prevented CO2 concentration to break another record this year.

Albeit, the lockdown has cubed many emissions like Carbon dioxide, but the concentration of the same in the atmosphere still remains unaffected, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) says.

In 2019, the global carbon-di-oxide levels another growth, rising above the average rate in the past decade, consequently leading the annual global average to breach the 410-part-per million thresholds, WMO Greenhouse Gas Bulletin says.

In 2015, the world breached the 400 ppm threshold, and this year the 410 ppm has been a breach, which is “a rate of increase (that) has never been seen in the history of our records,” says WMO Secretary-General Professor Petteri Taalas.

A similar pattern of growth continued in 2020 despite the pandemic-induced lockdowns, once again reaffirming that a momentary drop in CO2 emission does not translate to a long-term dip in the same.

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“The lockdown-related fall in emissions is just a tiny blip on the long-term graph. We need a sustained flattening of the curve,” said Prof Taalas.

If the current carbon dioxide level concentrations in the atmosphere were to be compared, a similar situation arose on Earth 3.5 billion years ago.

At that time, the temperature was 2-3 degrees Celsius warmer than what it is currently, and the sea level was 10 to 20 meters higher than now, Professor Taalas explained. Just that there weren’t 7.7 billion people at that time.


Climate change induced by greenhouse gas emissions, among other proponents aggravates the global average temperature which can have catastrophic consequences on humanity.

Millions of people located in vulnerable regions are set to get exposed to more droughts, heatwaves, floods, and poverty, as the delicate balance of nature is continually hurt.

If the recent data released in the WMO Greenhouse Gas Bulletin is to be believed, the earth now has 50% more Co2 in the atmosphere than there were in 1750, that is before the Industrial Revolution (IR).

More Co2 in the atmosphere means more heat will be trapped on earth. And the Co2 trapped stays for centuries, while another lot of the same gas is added to the bulk by the end of a year.

This vicious cycle has been on since the IR took shape in Britain in the 18th Century.

While human-induced changes can potentially break this cycle, but the change will have an effect on the annual carbon cycle, only if the ‘natural inter-annual variability’ is breached.

The ‘natural inter-annual variability’ means the year-on-year fluctuations in the world’s carbon cycle and the high natural variability in carbon sinks like vegetation.

This year’s pandemic-induced changes managed to pull down an estimated 4.2% and 7.5% of annual global carbon emissions. But this will not result in an annual dip in carbon levels.

A 4.2% to 7.5% drop would mean the year-on-year CO2 levels will continue to spike, but at a slightly reduced scale (0.08-0.23 ppm per year lower) which falls well within the 1 ppm natural inter-annual variability.

This means, the impact is not enough to reflect a dip in the annual carbon cycle.

As per the Global Carbon Project, the drop in carbon dioxide during the most intense period of lockdown has been estimated to be at 17%.

But an annual estimation of the same by this year-end is uncertain since the duration of these lockdown restrictions remains unclear.

As per the data by the Global Atmosphere Watch network, Methane concentrations in the atmosphere are two-and-a-half times pre-industrial levels, contributing to 17% of the total heating effect.

Nitrous-Oxide, a poisonous gas that is emitted from forest burning and over-use fertilizers, is now 23% higher than what it was in 1750.

Petteri Taalas says “a complete transformation of our industrial, energy and transport systems,” are needed to and must be ensured they are “economically affordable and technically possible,” then it would “affect our everyday life only marginally.”

“It is to be welcomed that a growing number of countries and companies have committed themselves to carbon neutrality,” he said. “There is no time to lose.”

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