Coronavirus gives world a brief 'pollution break'

AP
The world cut its daily carbon dioxide emissions by 17 percent at the peak of the coronavirus pandemic shutdown last month, a new study found.
AP

The world cut its daily carbon dioxide emissions by 17 percent at the peak of the coronavirus pandemic shutdown last month, a new study found.

But with life and heat-trapping gas levels inching back toward normal, the brief pollution break will likely be “a drop in the ocean” when it comes to climate change, scientists said.

In their study of carbon dioxide emissions during the pandemic, an international team of scientists calculated that pollution levels are heading back up — and for the year will end up between 4 percent and 7 percent lower than 2019 levels. That’s still the biggest annual drop in carbon emissions since World War II.

It’ll be 7 percent if the strictest lockdown rules remain all year long across much of the globe, 4 percent if they are lifted soon.

The biggest drop was from April 4 through 9 when the world spewed 18.7 million tons of carbon pollution a day less than on New Year’s Day.

Such low global emission levels haven’t been recorded since 2006. But if the world returns to its slowly increasing pollution levels next year, the temporary reduction amounts to “a drop in the ocean,” said study lead author Corinne LeQuere, a climate scientist at the University of East Anglia.

“It’s like you have a bath filled with water and you’re turning off the tap for 10 seconds,” she said.

By April 30, the world carbon pollution levels had grown by 3.3 million tons a day from its low point earlier in the month. Carbon dioxide stays in the air for about a century.

Outside experts praised the study as the most comprehensive yet, saying it shows how much effort is needed to prevent dangerous levels of further global warming.

“That underscores a simple truth: Individual behavior alone ... won’t get us there,” Pennsylvania State University climate scientist Michael Mann who wasn’t part of the study, said in an email.

“We need fundamental structural change.”

If the world could keep up annual emission cuts like this without a pandemic for decades, there’s a decent chance Earth can avoid warming another 1 degree Celsius, study authors said.

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