Climate change not slowed by the COVID pandemic, UN warns

Study says climate change is accelerating in spite of a brief 2020 decrease in greenhouse emissions due to the pandemic.

Flooded streets and homes in Louisiana after Hurricane Ida moved through the state in August [File: AP]

The pace of climate change has not been slowed by the global COVID-19 pandemic and the world remains behind in its battle to cut carbon emissions, according to the United Nations.

A report published on Thursday by a range of UN agencies and their scientific partners just weeks before the key COP26 climate summit, said climate change and its effects were accelerating.

The virus-related economic downturn caused only a temporary downturn in CO2 emissions last year and it was not enough to reverse the rising levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, according to the United in Science 2021 Report, which presents the latest scientific data and findings related to climate change.

Reduction targets are not being met and there is a rising likelihood the world will miss its Paris Agreement target of reducing global warming to 1.5C (2.7F) above pre-industrial levels, the UN said.

“This is a critical year for climate action,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in response to the report’s findings, adding that the results were an “alarming appraisal of just how far off course we are”.

“This year has seen fossil fuel emissions bounce back, greenhouse gas concentrations continuing to rise and severe human-enhanced weather events that have affected health, lives and livelihoods on every continent,” he said.

Concentrations in the atmosphere of the major greenhouse gases – CO2, methane and nitrous oxide – continued to increase in 2020 and the first half of 2021, the UN said.

COP26, the UN Climate Change Conference, will be held in Glasgow from October 31 to November 12.

Record temperatures

The average global temperature for the past five years was among the highest on record, estimated at 1.06C to 1.26C (1.9-2.2F) above pre-industrial levels.

There is now a 40 percent chance that the average global temperature in one of the next five years will be at least 1.5C warmer than pre-industrial levels, the report said.

“Unless there are immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, limiting warming to 1.5C will be impossible, with catastrophic consequences for people and the planet on which we depend,” Guterres said.

Fossil greenhouse gas emissions peaked in 2019, shrinking by 5.6 percent in 2020 due to the COVID-19 restrictions and economic slowdown.

However, outside aviation and sea transport, global emissions, averaged across the first seven months of 2021, are now at about the same levels as in 2019.

The report said concentrations of the major greenhouse gases – carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide – continued to increase in 2020 and the first half of 2021.

Overall emissions reductions in 2020 likely shrank the annual increase of the atmospheric concentrations of long-lived greenhouse gases, but the effect was “too small to be distinguished from natural variability,” it said.

The all-time Canadian heat record was broken in June when a high of 49.6C was recorded in Lytton, British Columbia.

Though the Pacific Northwest 2021 heatwave was a rare or extremely rare event, it would be “virtually impossible without human-caused climate change,” the report said.

As for the severe flooding in Germany in July, the report said with high confidence that human-induced climate change “increased the likelihood and intensity of such an event to occur”.

Source: News Agencies