Climate Crisis

CO2 emissions still rising despite a temporary pandemic slowdown

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As the human world all but ground to a halt in the latter half of 2020, scientists reported that global carbon dioxide emissions fell by 8 percent.

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Some wondered: Did the pandemic have a silver lining in reducing our overall CO2 emissions, the leading cause of the current climate crisis?

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Unfortunately, that answer is no. While emissions might have fallen, scientists say that the total accumulation of CO2 in the atmosphere continues to rise.

The reduction didn't make a difference in the overall trend.

Here are the reasons why.

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The atmosphere takes time to cycle: Although the most strictly locked-down cities might have seen a 75 percent reduction in CO2 emissions, gases cycle slowly through the atmosphere, so this drop won’t appear in the global data for many more months.

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There are also natural variations of carbon dioxide emission that uptake year to year or decade to decade. A strong El Niño or massive wildfires can lead to less CO2 uptake or more CO2 emissions.

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Although this year’s drop is significant relative to the years before, it’s not so significant to outweigh the natural variation of carbon dioxide emissions from human and natural sources.

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To achieve the goals laid out by the Paris Agreement — to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celcius — scientists say we’d need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 3 to 7 percent per year.

One year of pandemic-induced reductions won’t cut it.

Read more about the ongoing climate crisis here.

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