Coronavirus lockdown only cut 2050 temperatures by 0.01 per cent

Lockdown only cut 2050 temperatures by 0.01 per cent: Drop in emissions throughout the pandemic has had a ‘negligible’ impact on global warming, UN report warns

  • Report says it is likely emissions in 2020 will be 7% down from the 2019 figure
  • But this is a blip and will have a negligible impact on the 2050 temperature 
  • Forecasts indicate 2020 reduction due to lockdowns will be just 0.01% 

Reduced global emissions throughout the 2020 coronavirus pandemic will have a negligible impact on long-term global warming, according to a UN report. 

The Emissions Gap report from the UN Environment Programme (Unep) found the lockdown has lowered 2050 temperature predictions by only 0.01 per cent.

Earth is still on pace to reach a catastrophic 3.2°C (6.6°F) of warming by 2100, the report warns, because the brief dip in greenhouse gas emissions will not significantly influence long-term forecasts.  

However, a ‘green economic recovery’ following the pandemic could put the world on course to hit the 2°C (3.6ºF) target set out by the Paris Agreement if citizens and governments commit to change, it says. 

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This graph shows the reduction in CO2 emissions throughout 2020 by sector. At the start of April, during the peak of the coronavirus first wave outside of China and when the most stringent restrictions were in place, ground transport CO2 emissions were more than 11 megatonnes (Mt) does compared to 2019

Key findings of the Unep report  

A brief dip in carbon dioxide emissions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic will make no significant difference to long-term climate change.

World is still heading for a catastrophic temperature rise in excess of 3°C this century 

CO2 emissions could decrease by about 7 per cent in 2020 

Although 2020 emissions will be lower than in 2019 due to the COVID-19 crisis and associated responses, GHG concentrations in the atmosphere continue to rise, with the immediate reduction in emissions expected to have a negligible long-term impact on climate change

Domestic and international shipping and aviation currently account for around 5 per cent of global CO2 emissions and are projected to increase significantly

Emissions of the richest 1 per cent of the global population account for more than twice the combined share of the poorest 50 per cent 

‘The expected reduction in CO2 emissions is seven per cent in 2020, with a smaller drop in GHG emissions as non-CO2 is likely to be less affected,’ the report authors write. 

‘The reduction is unprecedented and significantly larger than the reduction of 0.9 per cent in CO2 emissions during the 2007–2008 global financial crisis (0.6 per cent for all GHGs).’

High-pollution sectors of business such as industry, power and ground transport were major contributors to this vast reduction. 

At the start of April, during the peak of the coronavirus first wave outside of China and when the most stringent restrictions were in place, ground transport CO2 emissions were more than 11 megatonnes (Mt) down compared to 2019. 

All sectors combined, the reduction was in excess of 18Mt at this point. As the year progressed, emissions returned closer to their normal levels, but remained significantly lower than expected.

But the severe drop in emissions, although unparallelled in history, will not in itself impact future warming projections without policymakers changing focus and prioritising curbing emissions going forward. 

‘As the COVID-19 crisis eases emissions will rebound, but how far and how fast is highly uncertain and depends primarily on the choices made by governments,’ the report states. 

‘If COVID-19 recovery packages focus on accelerating the ongoing renewable energy transition, then emissions may continue to decline depending on how large and long-term the recovery packages are.’

It also claims that 2020 will likely be the warmest year on record. This is unsurprising considering the climate chaos of the past 12 months, with parts of the world suffered from widespread drought, wildfires blazed and glaciers disappeared. 

The report also looked at how greenhouse gas emissions have changed since 1990.  

Pictured, a graph showing the increase in CO2 emissions since 1990 by sector. All sectors (agriculture [green], transport [red], industry [lilac] and energy [purple]) have increased over the last 30 years 

The Paris Agreement, which was first signed in 2015, is an international agreement to control and limit climate change.

It hopes to hold the increase in the global average temperature to below 2°C (3.6ºF) ‘and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C (2.7°F)’.

It seems the more ambitious goal of restricting global warming to 1.5°C (2.7°F) may be more important than ever, according to previous research which claims 25 per cent of the world could see a significant increase in drier conditions.

In June 2017, President Trump announced his intention for the US, the second largest producer of greenhouse gases in the world, to withdraw from the agreement.  

The Paris Agreement on Climate Change has four main goals with regards to reducing emissions:

1)  A long-term goal of keeping the increase in global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels

2) To aim to limit the increase to 1.5°C, since this would significantly reduce risks and the impacts of climate change

3) Goverments agreed on the need for global emissions to peak as soon as possible, recognising that this will take longer for developing countries

4) To undertake rapid reductions thereafter in accordance with the best available science

Source: European Commission 

The report shows that, since 1990, China has gone from being the third most polluting nation to rapidly becoming the country with the most CO2emissions

On a per capita basis, the US takes top spot as the worst polluter worldwide, just ahead of Russia, with China in fourth place (pictured)

Warning over rising air pollution when Covid restrictions end 

Air pollution could rise significantly as coronavirus restrictions end, a think tank warned as it called on cities to reboot stalled plans to tackle the problem.

Levels of toxic air fell dramatically in many places in the spring as the country went into full lockdown, Centre for Cities said.

But analysis shows that concentrations of air pollution have risen again over the summer to pre-pandemic levels or higher, even though most of the country remains under restrictions.

This means that, as life returns to normal, pollution could climb even higher, the think tank warned.

It is calling for councils which shelved their pollution reduction plans in the face of the pandemic to revisit them.

It shows that since 1990, China has gone from being the third most polluting nation to rapidly becoming the country with the most emissions. 

Estimates for 2019 reveal the Asian superpower, home to almost 1.4 billion people, belched out almost 15gigatonnes of CO2. One gigatonne is the same as 1,000,000,000 tonnes.  

It is more than double the emissions of the next worst offender, the USA, which has been churning out around 6Gt of CO2 every year over the past two decades. 

However, on a per capita basis, the US takes top spot, just ahead of Russia, with China in fourth place.  

The entire EU comes in third for total emissions but this figure has been steadily declining over the last 30 years. 

India however has seen a surge since the mid-noughties, putting it on course to overtake the EU in the next few years. 

If international shipping was a nation, it would be the sixth most polluting country, behind China, the US, India, Russia and Japan.  

Another startling finding is that the world’s wealthiest one per cent account for more than twice the carbon emissions of the poorest 50 per cent.

It found that the world’s top 10 per cent of earners devour about 45 per cent of all energy consumed for land transport worldwide and 75 per cent of that used for aviation. 

The world’s poorest 50 per cent of households, meanwhile, consume just 10 per cent and five per cent, respectively. 

In order to hit the target of restricting temperature rises this century to 1.5°C (2.7°F), significant cuts will need to be made to the carbon footprints of the one per cent, bringing them down to about 2.5 tonnes of CO2 per capita by 2030.    

Revealed: MailOnline dissects the impact greenhouse gases have on the planet – and what is being done to stop air pollution


Carbon dioxide

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is one of the biggest contributors to global warming. After the gas is released into the atmosphere it stays there, making it difficult for heat to escape – and warming up the planet in the process. 

It is primarily released from burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas, as well as cement production. 

The average monthly concentration of CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere, as of April 2019, is 413 parts per million (ppm). Before the Industrial Revolution, the concentration was just 280 ppm. 

CO2 concentration has fluctuated over the last 800,000 years between 180 to 280ppm, but has been vastly accelerated by pollution caused by humans. 

Nitrogen dioxide 

The gas nitrogen dioxide (NO2) comes from burning fossil fuels, car exhaust emissions and the use of nitrogen-based fertilisers used in agriculture.

Although there is far less NO2 in the atmosphere than CO2, it is between 200 and 300 times more effective at trapping heat.

Sulfur dioxide 

Sulfur dioxide (SO2) also primarily comes from fossil fuel burning, but can also be released from car exhausts.

SO2 can react with water, oxygen and other chemicals in the atmosphere to cause acid rain. 

Carbon monoxide 

Carbon monoxide (CO) is an indirect greenhouse gas as it reacts with hydroxyl radicals, removing them. Hydroxyl radicals reduce the lifetime of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. 


What is particulate matter?

Particulate matter refers to tiny parts of solids or liquid materials in the air. 

Some are visible, such as dust, whereas others cannot be seen by the naked eye. 

Materials such as metals, microplastics, soil and chemicals can be in particulate matter.

Particulate matter (or PM) is described in micrometres. The two main ones mentioned in reports and studies are PM10 (less than 10 micrometres) and PM2.5 (less than 2.5 micrometres).

Air pollution comes from burning fossil fuels, cars, cement making and agriculture 

Scientists measure the rate of particulates in the air by cubic metre.

Particulate matter is sent into the air by a number of processes including burning fossil fuels, driving cars and steel making.

Why are particulates dangerous?

Particulates are dangerous because those less than 10 micrometres in diameter can get deep into your lungs, or even pass into your bloodstream. Particulates are found in higher concentrations in urban areas, particularly along main roads. 

Health impact

What sort of health problems can pollution cause?

According to the World Health Organization, a third of deaths from stroke, lung cancer and heart disease can be linked to air pollution. 

Some of the effects of air pollution on the body are not understood, but pollution may increase inflammation which narrows the arteries leading to heart attacks or strokes. 

As well as this, almost one in 10 lung cancer cases in the UK are caused by air pollution. 

Particulates find their way into the lungs and get lodged there, causing inflammation and damage. As well as this, some chemicals in particulates that make their way into the body can cause cancer. 

Deaths from pollution 

Around seven million people die prematurely because of air pollution every year. Pollution can cause a number of issues including asthma attacks, strokes, various cancers and cardiovascular problems. 


Asthma triggers

Air pollution can cause problems for asthma sufferers for a number of reasons. Pollutants in traffic fumes can irritate the airways, and particulates can get into your lungs and throat and make these areas inflamed. 

Problems in pregnancy 

Women exposed to air pollution before getting pregnant are nearly 20 per cent more likely to have babies with birth defects, research suggested in January 2018.

Living within 3.1 miles (5km) of a highly-polluted area one month before conceiving makes women more likely to give birth to babies with defects such as cleft palates or lips, a study by University of Cincinnati found.

For every 0.01mg/m3 increase in fine air particles, birth defects rise by 19 per cent, the research adds. 

Previous research suggests this causes birth defects as a result of women suffering inflammation and ‘internal stress’. 

What is being done to tackle air pollution? 

Paris agreement on climate change

The Paris Agreement, which was first signed in 2015, is an international agreement to control and limit climate change. 

It hopes to hold the increase in the global average temperature to below 2°C (3.6ºF) ‘and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C (2.7°F)’.

Carbon neutral by 2050 

The UK government has announced plans to make the country carbon neutral by 2050. 

They plan to do this by planting more trees and by installing ‘carbon capture’ technology at the source of the pollution.

Some critics are worried that this first option will be used by the government to export its carbon offsetting to other countries.

International carbon credits let nations continue emitting carbon while paying for trees to be planted elsewhere, balancing out their emissions.

No new petrol or diesel vehicles by 2040

In 2017, the UK government announced the sale of new petrol and diesel cars would be banned by 2040.  

However,  MPs on the climate change committee have urged the government to bring the ban forward to 2030, as by then they will have an equivalent range and price.

The Paris Agreement, which was first signed in 2015, is an international agreement to control and limit climate change. Pictured: air pollution over Paris in 2019.

Norway’s electric car subsidies

The speedy electrification of Norway’s automotive fleet is attributed mainly to generous state subsidies. Electric cars are almost entirely exempt from the heavy taxes imposed on petrol and diesel cars, which makes them competitively priced.

A VW Golf with a standard combustion engine costs nearly 334,000 kroner (34,500 euros, $38,600), while its electric cousin the e-Golf costs 326,000 kroner thanks to a lower tax quotient. 

Criticisms of inaction on climate change

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has said there is a ‘shocking’ lack of Government preparation for the risks to the country from climate change. 

The committee assessed 33 areas where the risks of climate change had to be addressed – from flood resilience of properties to impacts on farmland and supply chains – and found no real progress in any of them.

The UK is not prepared for 2°C of warming, the level at which countries have pledged to curb temperature rises, let alone a 4°C rise, which is possible if greenhouse gases are not cut globally, the committee said.

It added that cities need more green spaces to stop the urban ‘heat island’ effect, and to prevent floods by soaking up heavy rainfall. 

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