Carbon dioxide levels hit new highs last year and are expected to continue rising in 2020, despite coronavirus restrictions that have forced a global industrial slowdown.

The alarming models were published Monday by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), crushing hopes that lockdowns across the world have pushed emissions, the main driver of climate change, to an all-time high.

The United Nations agency said measures to curb the spread of the pandemic had effectively reduced emissions of many pollutants and greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide.

But he warned that the industrial slowdown due to the coronavirus crisis had failed to curb record concentrations of greenhouse gases that trap heat in the atmosphere, raising temperatures, raising sea levels and causing more extreme weather conditions.

The WMO has said that the change in carbon dioxide concentrations – the result of cumulative past and current emissions – is, in fact, no more significant than normal annual fluctuations in the carbon cycle and in the amount of carbon absorbed. by vegetation. and the oceans.

According to the WMO, preliminary estimates indicate a reduction in annual global emissions of between 4.2% and 7.5% – a “small blow”, with no greater effect on global warming than the expected annual fluctuation.

“Reducing emissions of this magnitude will not lower atmospheric CO2. CO2 will continue to increase, but at a slightly reduced rate, ”said WMO.

‘It’s getting worse’

In a video shared on social media, Patricia Espinosa, the UN Executive Secretary for Climate Change, said: “COVID-19 has not put climate change on hold.

“It’s getting worse and our window of opportunity is closing,” she added.

The annual report published by the Geneva agency measures the atmospheric concentration of the main gases – carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide – which warm the Earth and trigger extreme weather events.

Levels of carbon dioxide, produced from the combustion of fossil fuels, reached a new record high of 410.5 parts per million (ppm) in 2019, he said.

The annual increase is greater than the previous year and exceeds the average of the last decade.

“Such a rate of increase has never been seen in the history of our records,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas, referring to an increase of 10 ppm since 2015, calling for a “flattening sustainable [emissions] curve”.

Oksana Tarasova, head of atmospheric environment research at WMO, said the magnitude of the increase in carbon dioxide levels over the past four years was comparable to the changes seen during the passage of a Ice Age to more temperate periods, but back then the transition took longer.

“We humans did it with nothing, just with our shows, and we did it in four years.”

Methane and nitrous oxide levels

The second most prevalent greenhouse gas in the atmosphere is methane, emitted in part by livestock and the fermentation of paddy fields, which is responsible for about 16 percent of the warming.

In 2019, methane levels were at 260 percent of pre-industrial levels, at 1877 parts per billion (ppb), with an increase from 2018 slightly lower than the previous annual increase, but still above the 10-year average , said the WMO.

Concentrations of nitrous oxide, the third largest greenhouse gas caused largely by agricultural fertilizers, meanwhile stood at 332 ppb last year, 123 percent higher than pre-industrial levels .

Its increase from 2018 to 2019 was also lower than that observed from 2017 to 2018, but on par with the average annual growth rate of the past decade.

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