This global lockdown because of the coronavirus spread profoundly impacts the economy, but it also has an unintended positive outcome, namely, the emission of carbon dioxide (CO2) appears to have reduced.
It might seem glimmer of hope during such a crisis and uncertainty. Global temperatures have continued to increase, and any decrease in CO2 discharge would sound good, but the current reduction in emissions won’t actually mean much when considering the big climate change picture.
The Drop Down is Almost Invisible
A decrease in CO2 emissions up to about 25 percent has been reported in China, and similar drops are expected to be reported in northern Europe, where countries such as Italy have been under lockdown for over a month. However, this is an incredibly small change, researchers say.
Deke Arndt, climate monitoring chief at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Centers for Environmental Information, is the one who analyzes the climate monitoring data. He and his team shared NOAA’s annual State of the Climate that comprises a survey on global climate patterns. What the experts have seen is a continual rise in worldwide temperatures.
“The warming we see is still trying to catch up to the increased levels of greenhouse gases that are now in the atmosphere. And they will be catching up for many years,” Arndt said. “Short-term variances or short-term departures from the trend, even in the downward sense … don’t reverse what we’ve seen and what we will continue to see for years to come.”
The Effects are Short-Lived
Katharine Hayhoe, a Canadian climate scientist at Texas Tech University Climate Science Center, also emphasized that the quantity of CO2 emissions reduction in this period will barely be visible in the longer term because of existing CO2 amounts.
“Atmospheric CO2 is the cumulative effect of all of our emissions over decades to centuries,” she explained. “Imagine if you were putting a block on a pile, and you’d been doing that every single month for 300 years, and then you don’t put a block on the pile, and you say, ‘Oh, there’s a big difference in the pile.’ But the naked eye can’t even see that difference. So that’s the difference between concentrations versus emissions.”
Another factor to take into consideration is that the decrease in CO2 emissions is probably going to have a short life because after countries lift their lockdowns, the industries will accelerate the production due to the financial losses registered these months.
“I certainly expect global CO2 emissions to go down in 2020. My sense is that emissions will go down a few percent, but I would add a very large uncertainty around that,” said Glen Peters, research director at Norway’s Center for International Climate Research. “The biggest challenge is that we are only one-quarter of the way into the year, and we have to make big assumptions about what happens for the next nine months of the year.”
He added that even if the discharges were to drop down to an incredible 50 percent, of they again go up to the levels registered before the lockdown, it would have almost no impact on climate whatsoever.