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Did pandemic disruptions help to slow climate change? No, scientists say

Did pandemic disruptions help to slow climate change? No, scientists say

The pandemic has disrupted regular life, travel and business on a massive scale, a phenomenon that is still occurring in 2021, albeit on a lesser scale than at the beginning of the pandemic. But did this disruption of human behaviour at least achieve something positive: the slowing of climate change?

According to numerous reports and experts, the answer is clear.

“No,” says Pieter Tans, a climate scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), in a phone interview with CTVNews.ca.

In 2020 we did see a brief dip in emissions due to economic slowdowns. But in 2021, the rate of climate change was similar to what it would’ve been if there was no global pandemic at all, Tans confirmed.

According to a report from NOAA released in early November, fossil carbon emissions dropped by 5.4 per cent in 2020, but are expected to have increased again by 4.9 per cent by the end of 2021. The projected CO2 emissions for 2021 are 36.4 billion tonnes.

The same report concluded that at the current rate the planet is warming, we have only 11 years left before global warming rises uncontrollably past the goals of the Paris Agreement.

Within the next five years, we could see temperatures cross the threshold of higher than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, according to another multi-agency report released this fall compiled by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

“Reaching net zero CO2 emissions by 2050 would require cutting total CO2 emissions by roughly the same amount observed during the coronavirus slowdown -- every year,” a press release for the NOAA report stated.

And despite the large disruption to human activity in 2020 caused by COVID-19, the actual dip in emissions was small, Tans said.

One of the biggest sectors interrupted by the pandemic for an extended period was aviation.


The pandemic has disrupted regular life, travel and business on a massive scale, a phenomenon that is still occurring in 2021. But according to scientists, this disruption of human activity didn't slow climate change apart from a brief dip in emissions in 2020.
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