Greenhouse Gas Numbers Are In, and They're Remarkable

Carbon dioxide emissions dropped by 17% amid pandemic, but scientists say it won't last
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted May 19, 2020 11:49 AM CDT
Greenhouse Gas Numbers Are In, and They're Remarkable
File photo of a coal-fired power plant in Glenrock, Wyo.   (AP Photo/J. David Ake)

Scientists have completed the first comprehensive look at how the pandemic has affected greenhouse gas emissions, and the big stat is eye-popping. Daily emissions dropped 17% in April as nations around the world went into lockdown mode, according to the study in the Nature Climate Change journal. That figure is unprecedented. For context, the Washington Post notes that a UN report last year said emissions must fall 7.6% a year starting in 2020 to avoid the worst effects of a warming climate. But those worried about the planet should hold off on the celebration. "History suggests this will be a blip," says Stanford's Rob Jackson, one of the study's co-authors. In fact, the researchers estimate that the year-end reduction will end up being somewhere between 4% and 7%, depending on the speed and scope of the reopening of economies around the world.

And if 17% sounds like a lot, consider that the reduction brings us back only to what levels were in 2006, a clear sign of how fast the issue has accelerated in the last 14 years, per the Verge. Also, even though the world was in an unprecedented shutdown, 83% of emissions were still pumped out. "There's a lot of inertia in the infrastructure, in the built environment," says another researcher, Corinne Le Quere of Britain's Tyndall Center for Climate Change Research. "It seems like many things are able to function on their own, at least for a short time." The Guardian, meanwhile, rounds up reaction to the report, including the assertion from the chief of the International Energy Agency that the biggest drop in carbon in history is "nothing to celebrate" because it's the result of "economic trauma," not policy. (More greenhouse gases stories.)

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