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  HOME | Science, Nature & Technology

UN: Pandemic Reduced CO2, but Impact on Climate ‘Negligible’

NAIROBI – The global impact of the coronavirus pandemic has reduced carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions this year, but will have a negligible impact on the climate crisis, the United Nations said on Wednesday.

A report by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) found that the widespread lockdowns that have drastically reduced human activity will contribute to a reduction of CO2 emissions by up to 7 percent by the end of the year.

But the UNEP said that despite the dip in greenhouse gas emissions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic – which “translates to just 0.01° Celsius reduction of global warming by 2050” –, “the world is still heading for a temperature rise in excess of 3° Celsius this century.”

Moreover, it does not prevent “the world from still heading for a temperature increase of more than 3° Celsius this century,” far from the goal of keeping such an increase below 2 degrees from the pre-industrial era.


The objective of keeping temperatures under 2 degrees warmer than the pre-industrial era is the underpinning commitment of the Paris Agreement (2015), which sets measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as well as to limit the increase in the planet’s temperature to 1.5 degrees.

The UNEP study noted that the “economic disruption” caused by the coronavirus crisis “has briefly slowed – but far from eliminated – the historic and ever-increasing burden of human activity on the Earth’s climate,” which is manifesting itself in the “continuing rise of extreme weather events including wildfires and hurricanes, and in the melting of glaciers and ice at both poles.”

“The year 2020 has set new records – they will not be the last,” UNEP warned.

But the report did have some positive findings, namely that a “green pandemic recovery” could reduce emissions by up to 25 percent.

UN Environment identified several measures that could deliver these emissions cuts, including “direct support for zero-emissions technologies and infrastructure, reducing fossil fuel subsidies, and backing nature-based solutions – including large-scale landscape restoration and reforestation.”

The pandemic is a warning that we must urgently shift from our destructive development path, which is driving the three planetary crises of climate change, nature loss and pollution,” UN-Environment Executive Director Inger Andersen said.

The slight dip in pollution caused by COVID-19 is just a mirage because “the climate crisis has not disappeared,” Andersen pointed out.

“The year 2020 is on course to be the warmest on record,” she said. “Wildfires, storms and droughts continue to wreak havoc while glaciers melt at unprecedented rates.”

The report says that CO2 emissions and other greenhouse gases continued to grow for the third consecutive year in 2019, when they reached a new record of 59.1 gigatons of CO2 equivalent.

According to the study, global greenhouse gas emissions have risen by an average of 1.4 percent per year since 2010, with a more rapid advance of 2.6 percent in 2019 due to a large spike in forest fires.


Over the last decade, the four largest emitters (China, the United States, the European Union plus the United Kingdom and India) have contributed 55 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions.

The top seven emitters (including Russia, Japan and international transport) have contributed 65 percent, and the G20 members of developed and emerging countries account for 78 percent.

The UNEP reiterated that government commitments under the Paris Agreement are still “seriously inadequate” and would lead to a temperature rise of at least 3 degrees by the end of the century.

“A dramatic strengthening of ambition is needed if the Paris Agreement goals are to be achieved,” the report found.

The UN attributes the responsibility to act on the G20, saying few of its members “have put words into action.”

“Around one-quarter of G20 members have dedicated shares of their spending (up to 3 percent of GDP) explicitly to low-carbon measures,” it said.

“The wealthy bear the greatest responsibility in this area,” Anderson said. “The combined emissions of the richest 1 percent of the global population account for more than twice the combined emissions of the poorest 50 percent.

“This elite will need to reduce their footprint by a factor of 30 to stay in line with the Paris Agreement targets.”


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