Thursday, October 28, 2021

Carbon dioxide continues to climb, even during the pandemic

Back in the early days of the pandemic, in what feels now almost like another lifetime, there was a frisson of excitement over global carbon emissions. With most of the world's economies all but closed down, and our usually busy streets echoing with a ghostly silence, the smog lifted, we could suddenly hear bird-song, and the inexorable increase in our greenhouse gas emissions began to abate. There was a fleeting moment of what felt like climate change hope. Maybe you remember it.

Well, it didn't last long. The latest report on the state of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere from the World Meteorological Organization makes gloomy reading. It shows that the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached 413 parts per million in 2020, and continues to grow at 2.5 part per million each year (in fact, that pace of increase has slightly increased over the last ten years, if anything, despite all our efforts). 

2020, the year of the plague, the year of climate hope, looks just like any other year on the graph of carbon concentration against time, which sketches a pretty straight upward slope from the 1980s to date. 2020, by year end, did not even show as a slight dip on that steady slope. (Actually, it did fall slightly by 5.6% in 2020, but that is such a negligible amount that the overall slope looks unchanged. Given the bounce-back of the economy in 2021, this year's increase seems likely to erase any such dip, however slight.) Increases were also observed in methane and nitrous oxide, the next two most important greenhouse gases, particularly methane.

All in all, it's a sobering report and, although climate scientists continue to remain optimistic, at least in their public statements, it's hard to see a silver lining in these burgeoning clouds. A goal of 1.5°C warming globally seems like a distant memory, and even 2°C seems unattainable: we are currently headed for about 2.7-3.1°C (i.e. catastrophic). It's no surprise, then, that most Canadians are pessimistic about the fight against climate change.

No comments: