Global carbon dioxide levels are continuing to rise despite the industrial slowdown, says the World Meteorological Organisation.
It has warned that the COVID-19 pandemic "is not a solution for climate change" and that the welcome fall in emissions in 2020 was "just a tiny blip on the long-term graph".
"We need a sustained flattening of the curve,” said Professor Petteri Taalas, WMO Secretary-General.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, global lockdowns have seen levels of emissions and carbon dioxide reduced as factories were closed, flights were grounded and millions of people were required to stay at home.
The drop in emissions this year follows a huge increase in 2019 when the annual global average of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere passed the milestone of 410 parts per million. Since 1990, there has been a 45 per cent increase in global warming, with CO2 accounting for four-fifths of this rise, the WMO said.
“Carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere for centuries and in the ocean for even longer. The last time the Earth experienced a comparable concentration of CO2 was 3-5 million years ago when the temperature was 2-3°C warmer and sea level was 10-20 meters higher than now. But there weren’t 7.7 billion inhabitants,” Taalas explains.
“We breached the global threshold of 400 parts per million 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."
A platform for more ambitious climate action
While the impact on climate change was negligible, Taalas added that the pandemic "provides 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."
He describes the changes we need as "economically affordable and technically possible", saying they would affect our everyday life only marginally.
"There is no time to lose,” he urges.
According to the Global Carbon Project, daily CO2 emissions were reduced by as much as 17 per cent globally during the strictest lockdown period earlier in 2020. In total, annual global emissions are due to be down between 4.2 per cent and 7.5 per cent.
But the project warned that this would not cause atmospheric CO2 to go down, it will simply see it rise at a more reduced pace.