Global CO2 Measurement Hits Record High in May Despite Pandemic Induced Lockdown

A Uniper energy company coal-fired power plant and a BP refinery beside a wind generator in Gelsenkirchen Germany

Enlarge Image A Uniper energy company coal-fired power plant and a BP refinery beside a wind generator in Gelsenkirchen Germany. AP

Carbon emissions linked to human activities hit a record high past year but fell in the spring due to the effect of the coronavirus epidemic.

Scripps Institution of Oceanography collects measurements of atmospheric Carbon dioxide on top of Mauna Loa in Hawaii. This new record was expected: Carbon dioxide levels have been accelerating in the atmosphere since 1958, when record-keeping began at the Mauna Loa Observatory.

It must be noted that there was a significant drop in Carbon dioxide emissions in the month of April as compared to the same time a year ago.

As the Scripps chart below depicts, atmospheric Carbon dioxide was around 317 ppm in the late 1950s.

The new data from European scientists follows NOAA's Thursday announcement that atmospheric Carbon dioxide levels also hit new highs last month. "In the northern fall, winter, and early spring, plants and soils give off CO2, causing levels to rise through May", the research was quoted as stating.

Though global carbon emissions plummeted in April 2020 (by 17 percent compared to 2019) due to wide-scale societal shutdowns meant to curb the spread of the new coronavirus, there was still a profound amount of CO2 being emitted into the air - just not as much as there would have been without a historic pandemic. And carbon dioxide levels are now almost 100 parts per million higher than then.

"People may be surprised to hear that the response to the coronavirus outbreak hasn't done more to influence CO2 levels", Ralph Keeling, a geochemist who runs the Scripps Oceanography CO2 program, said in a statement. "We are not getting rid of the pile [with temporary shutdowns]".

To significantly slow the relentless upward atmospheric Carbon dioxide trajectory, unprecedented emissions reductions of 20 to 30 percent would have to be sustained for six to 12 months, Scripps noted.

"Just a few months of lower emissions were never likely to make a dent in the hundreds of billions tons of carbon that have built up over a century and a half of burning fossil fuels", he said, adding that the drop in emissions due to the pandemic will remain as a "blip" unless governments increase their ambition.
The growth rate, though, made a noticeable jump to 2 ppm a year in the 2000s and has continued to climb to 2.4 ppm during the last decade. As per the institute, the average was just over 417 parts per million, in May, which is possibly the highest amount in millions of years.

The reason why is clear.

"Progress in emissions reductions is not visible in the Carbon dioxide record", Pieter Tans, senior scientist with NOAA's Global Monitoring Laboratory, said in a statement.

Latest News