UN Report Shows COVID-19 Has Not Slowed Pace of Climate Change

Kimberly Redmond  |

Video source: YouTube, Bloomberg Quicktake: Now

The COVID-19 pandemic has not slowed the pace of climate change and it is likely that the world will miss its Paris Agreement goal of reducing global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, according to a new report from the United Nations. 

Released Thursday, the UN’s United in Science 2021 report, found that coronavirus-related stay-at-home orders and economic slowdowns caused only a temporary downturn in CO2 emissions last year and were not enough to reverse rising levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

The study, which was completed by the United Nations and its scientific partner organizations, said that global fossil fuel emissions between January and July in the power, industry and residential sectors already rebounded to the same level — or higher — than in the same period in 2019, prior to the onset of the public health emergency.

Emissions from road transport, however, remained about 6% lower, the report said.

“This is a critical year for climate action,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres, who went on to say the report “shows just how far off course we are.” 

“We really are out of time,” he said. “This report makes clear that our climate has already changed and that climate-related risks are increasing rapidly.”

Key Findings

  • Concentrations in the atmosphere of major greenhouse gases continued to increase in 2020 and in the first half of 2021.
  • The average global temperature for the past five years was among the highest on record, estimated at 1.06 degrees to 1.26 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
  • There is a 40% chance that the average global temperature over the next five years will be at least 1.5 degrees Celsius warmer than pre-industrial levels.
  • Extreme heat, droughts, heavy rain and floods are more likely to become the norm.

In prepared remarks Thursday, Guterres said, “The results are plain to see — affecting health, lives and livelihoods everywhere. We now have five times the number of recorded weather disasters than we had in 1970, and they are seven times more costly.”

Even the most developed countries have become vulnerable. Hurricane Ida recently cut power to over a million people in New Orleans, and New York City was paralyzed by record-breaking rain that killed at least 50 people in the region. Unprecedented floods devastated parts of Western Europe, and an exceptional and dangerous heatwave killed hundreds in the northwest United States and western Canada.”

Unless there are “immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions” in emissions, the consequences will be “catastrophic,” Guterres said.

In advance of the United Nations’ COP26 climate change conference in November, Guterres is pushing governments to commit to tougher emissions reductions targets. 

“It is urgent that we step up efforts to protect people and their livelihoods, particularly in the most vulnerable countries that have been hit simultaneously by climate disruption, COVID-19 and crushing levels of debt.”

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