The historic drop in greenhouse emissions due to the pandemic may remain a mirage. “After a temporary reduction as a result of the confinement measures and the economic slowdown, emissions are on the way to reaching levels prior to the pandemic,” the United Nations warned. Six international agencies and organizations, coordinated by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), have presented in New York this Wednesday the United in Science 2020 report, a compilation of the main effects and causes of climate change based on the new data collected during the last year. The analysis also warns that the world is far from complying with the Paris Agreement, which sets the objective that the increase in global average temperature remains between 1.5 and two degrees compared to pre-industrial levels. It even opens the door to the possibility that the 1.5 barrier will be occasionally exceeded one year between now and 2024 .
“Unless emissions peak and decline soon, it is unlikely that the temperature will stabilize well below two degrees to comply with the Paris Agreement,” explains Jürg Luterbacher, WMO Chief Scientist, and one of the report coordinators. In the section of the document referring to emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), the main greenhouse gas , it is indicated that the global fall expected for the end of this year compared to 2019 will be between 4% and 7% due to the confinement measures imposed before covid-19. But, “at the beginning of June 2020, daily global fossil CO2 emissions were back near 2019 levels.” At that time, the reduction was already around 5%, according to the organization’s calculations. Global Carbon Project , which has been in charge of preparing this chapter. Although there is still no concrete data for July and August, Pep Canadell, director of this organization, points out that the fall in emissions “has continued to decrease”, that is, closer to 2019 levels.
At the same time, the concentrations of this gas in the atmosphere have continued to grow and this spring they reached a new historical record, reaching the highest level in the last three million years. “The reduction in CO2 emissions in 2020 will have a very limited effect on the rate of increase of its atmospheric concentrations, since these are the result of current and past emissions and the extremely long life span of this gas,” he explains. the ONU. “To stabilize climate change, emissions must be reduced steadily until net emissions are equal to zero,” the report adds.
The increase in the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere drives the warming of the earth’s surface and the oceans. The report points out that the forecast is that “the global average temperature for the 2016-2020 period is the warmest on record, approximately 1.1 degrees above the 1850-1900 average, the period taken as a reference to evaluate the change that the temperature has experienced since the pre-industrial era ”. And the projections for the next five years (2020-2024) suggest that there is a 24% probability that at least one year will exceed 1.5 degrees on average compared to the pre-industrial level .
But the problem is not only the increase in temperature, but all the impacts related to warming. “Heat has also been associated with changes in the hydrological cycle in different areas with prolonged and severe droughts in some areas and extreme floods in others,” Luterbacher details. “Every year between 2016 and 2020, the extent of Arctic sea ice has been below average,” he adds. “The global average rate of rise in sea level increased in 2016-2020 compared to the previous five years …”.
“The extreme events in the Arctic this year are very worrying because of their potential to amplify and accelerate climate change through feedback, such as fires and thawing of permafrost,” says Maisa Rojas, Chilean physicist and climatologist. This expert was in charge of coordinating last year the first edition of the report presented this Wednesday in New York. Although the results of the investigations continue to point towards an active process of global warming in this second edition – “climate change has not been stopped by the covid”, The UN reiterated this Wednesday, “a year later there is a much lower level of international attention on this problem, something that worries many researchers and political leaders.
But both the UN and other international organizations and scientists urge to turn the way out of the crisis generated by the covid into an opportunity also to fight against global warming. “Solutions are needed to address both the covid-19 pandemic and the climate crisis,” says Luterbacher. “Record heat, ice loss, forest fires, floods and droughts will continue to worsen in the future and affect our societies and economies around the world,” warns this specialist. “We must turn the strategy to recover from the pandemic into a real opportunity to forge a better future,” insists António Guterres, UN Secretary General, in the foreword to the report.
“The pandemic has stirred us up so much that it can give us one last chance to face not only the climate change crisis but all other crises at the same time in a much more determined way,” says Rojas. But, for this, “all efforts” must be concentrated so that there is not “a rebound in emissions when the economy recovers, as has happened in the past.” In other words, 2019 was the year in which greenhouse gas emissions peaked.