Greenhouse gas levels reached a record high in 2020 despite much of the world spending at least part of the year under lockdown or working from home, a United Nations agency announced Monday.
Although fossil-fuel carbon dioxide emissions fell by 5.6 percent due to the pandemic-slowing economic activity, greenhouse gas accumulation was still higher than the 10-year average, according to the World Meteorological Organization’s (WMO) latest issue of its Greenhouse Gas Bulletin.
The current level of carbon dioxide concentration is 50 percent more than was in the air before the Industrial Revolution, and levels haven’t been this high in 3-5 million years, when global temperatures were higher by an average of 2-3 degrees Celsius. That’s long before humans existed.
Carbon dioxide, which absorbs and radiates heat, is the greenhouse gas that contributes most to the climate crisis. According to the U.N., around half of the carbon dioxide emitted by human activities today remains in the atmosphere, while the other half has been absorbed by oceans and land ecosystems. Considering the speed at which greenhouse gases are now accumulating in the atmosphere, the world is far from achieving the goals set by the Paris Agreement in 2015. President Trump announced the U.S. was formally withdrawing from the agreement in 2017, but the Biden administration reaffirmed the nation’s commitment in February.
“At the current rate of increase in greenhouse gas concentrations, we will see a temperature increase by the end of this century far in excess of the Paris Agreement targets of 1.5 to 2 C above preindustrial levels,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas. “We are way off track.”
This information comes as nations prepare for the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow next week, and as Democrats in Congress continue to negotiate with the White House and moderates in their party to pass a budget reconciliation bill that includes measures that would strengthen the social safety net and mitigate the climate crisis. At the summit, countries will discuss actions that can help reach the goal of ending greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, in the hopes of staving off a climate catastrophe.
“It is hoped COP26 will see a dramatic increase in commitments,” said Taalas. “We need to transform our commitment into action that will have an impact on GHGs. We need to revisit our industrial, energy and transport systems and whole way of life — the needed changes are economically affordable and technically possible. There is no time to lose.”