Lockdown emissions fall will have ‘no effect’ on climate, say researchers

PARIS (AFP) – The unprecedented fall in greenhouse gas emissions from lockdowns during the pandemic will do “nothing” to slow climate change without a lasting switch from fossil fuels, an international team of researchers said yesterday.

Global emissions from the burning of coal, oil and gas could fall up to eight per cent in 2020 after governments moved to confine billions of people to their homes in a bid to slow the spread of COVID-19.

But absent of a systemic change in how the world powers and feeds itself, experts warned in the study yesterday that the emissions saved during lockdown would be essentially meaningless.

Using open source data, the team calculated how levels of 10 different greenhouse gases and air pollutants changed in more than 120 countries between February and June this year.

They found that pollution such as carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxides fell in the period by between 10 and 30 per cent.

However, given that the “massive behavioural shifts” during lockdown were only temporary, lower emissions so far this year are unlikely to influence the climate.

Even assuming travel restrictions and social distancing continue to the end of 2021, the team concluded that this would only save 0.01 degree Celsius of warming by 2030.

“Lockdown showed that we can change and change fast, but it also showed the limits of behaviour change,” Piers Forster, study co-author and Director of the Priestley International Centre for Climate at Britain’s University of Leeds.