Levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere hit a new record of 410.5 parts per million in 2019, and are expected to keep rising this year, the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) said in its annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin on Monday, November 23, 2020.
“We breached the global threshold of 400 parts per million (ppm) in 2015. And just four years later, we crossed 410 ppm. Such a rate of increase has never been seen in the history of our records. The lockdown-related fall in emissions is just a tiny blip on the long-term graph. We need a sustained flattening of the curve,” WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas, said in a statement.
Reduced activity associated with COVID-19 lockdowns is expected to cut carbon emissions by 4-7 per cent this year, Taalas said.
Oksana Tarasova, WMO Chief of Atmospheric and Environment Research Division, told a news conference in Geneva that although it looked like the pandemic had brought the world to a standstill, carbon emissions have continued almost unabated because lockdowns only reduced mobility, not overall energy consumption.
She compared the carbon levels in the atmosphere to a bathtub that was filling up more and more every year, and even a single drop of carbon would cause the level to rise. The COVID-related lockdowns were equivalent to just slightly reducing the flow from the tap, she said.
“The CO2 which we have now in the atmosphere is accumulated since 1750, so it’s every single bit which we put in the atmosphere since that time that actually forms the current concentration. It’s not what happened today or yesterday, it’s the whole history of the human economic and human development, which actually leads us to this global level of 410,” Tarasova said.
CO2 levels rose by 2.6 ppm in 2019, faster than the average rate for the last 10 years, which was 2.37 ppm, and are now 48 per cent higher than the pre-industrial level.
Taalas said that in order to meet the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement, in which governments pledged to try to stop temperatures rising by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, the world needed to switch from coal, oil and gas-fired energy towards solar, wind, hydropower and nuclear power, as well as adopting less-polluting modes of transport, including electric vehicles, biofuels, hydrogen and bicycles.
He said it was good news that a growing number of countries had committed to reaching carbon neutrality by 2050, which was required to meet the 1.5 degree target.
“So far we have 50 per cent of the global emissions which are coming from China, European Union and Japan and South Korea, and also 50 per cent of the global GDP behind this,” he declared.
“And if the US with the Biden administration will have the same target that would mean we would have the majority of our emissions and also the majority of the global economy behind such a target. And we should bend this emissions growth curve in the coming five years, and then we should start seeing drops of the emissions of the order of six per cent per year until 2050 to reach that target.”
He said US President-elect Joe Biden had indicated during his election campaign that he would initiate a big financial stimulus for carbon-friendly technologies.
“We are talking about a couple of trillions. And then he has indicated that he would like to have the same aim as many others, to become carbon neutral by 2050, and of course that would be good news globally, and it might have the domino effect that it might motivate also some other countries to join this kind of movement.”