Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere continue to rise steadily on the planet. It just shows that a few months of lockdown even on a global basis is not an extreme enough move to make any long-term difference in the fate of the planet and the climate crisis.
New Delhi's smog has cleaned up significantly during the lockdown (on the right) compared to a more normal photo from last fall (on the left). Too bad that smog decrease is not enough to change the pace of global carbon emissions increases. Photo: EXrayFuSion, via Twitter
The latest data on CO2 emissions in the atmosphere, provided courtesy of the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, shows May 2020 levels at 417 parts per million (ppm). That is a 2 ppm increase since May 2019.
General pollution levels are indeed down, however, because of the global economic shutdown in transportation and industry for a significant part of 2020 so far.
Nitrogen dioxide levels, a major contributor to health problems worldwide, registered a major drop this year. According to data gathered by NASA, NO2 was down around 30% in New York and Washington, D.C. for the month of March, the first month of major shelter-in-place orders in the United States.
As for carbon dioxide, at least one reputable source showed that the lockdowns in China alone contributed to a 25 percent carbon emissions cutback in global carbon releases. The photos of skies across the world show that places as diverse as New Delhi, Los Angeles, and Moscow have also been notably clearer than in past years.
While that may look good, scientists at the Scripps Institute sent along an important note when they announced that the May 2020 concentrations of CO2 were still up on a year-to-year basis. They calculated that it would take overall global emissions to cut by 20 to 30 percent for an entire year for there to be any major drop in overall carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere.
So unless someone out there is hoping the pandemic and lockdowns are going to continue indefinitely, as a means of doing something about atmospheric carbon, do not expect anything other than a slight change in the acceleration of carbon dioxide concentrations for the indefinite future.
Despite the pandemic, then, the planet remains on serious life support from carbon dioxide and its continuing impact on global heating.