While everyone has been cooped up indoors to try and curb the spread of coronavirus, there has been one flicker of hope keeping people going throughout.
With millions fewer people hopping in their cars for a long commute to work and flights being cancelled all over the world, we saw a dramatic drop in greenhouse gases and air pollutants, leaving many feeling hopeful the pandemic could be slowing down the effects of climate change.
Sadly, however, scientists have now revealed the global lockdown will have little impact on global warming.
New research has suggested global temperatures will only be 0.01°C lower than expected by 2030; though it’s important not to completely lose hope, scientists say.
While the short term might feel disheartening, the long term outlook appears significantly better. That’s because implementing a strong green stimulus could prevent the world from exceeding 1.5°C of warming by the middle of this century.
It has already been proven that shutting down transport systems around the world had a significant impact on greenhouse gas emissions, with global daily CO2 emissions dropping by as much as 17%.
The study used mobility data that was gathered by Google and Apple to calculate how 10 different greenhouse gases and air pollutants had changed between February and June of this year, across 123 countries.
It was led by Professor Piers Forster, from the University of Leeds, who worked alongside his daughter Harriet on the research, after her A-Level exams were cancelled.
Together with a team of researchers, they discovered the drop off peaked in April, while CO2, nitrogen oxides and other emissions dropped between 10% and 30% across the globe, while many countries implemented strict lockdown measures, leading to huge declines in surface transport.
However, the team’s research also found that the reduction in greenhouse gases actually cancelled each other out in terms of warming.
That’s because nitrogen oxides from transport normally warm the atmosphere, but in this instance they were matched by a drop in sulpher dioxide, which predominantly comes from burning coal. Sulpher dioxide also helps aerosols to form, which in turn reflect sunlight and help our planet keep cool.
Professor Forster told BBC News:
Although temporary changes can help, you need to reduce CO2 permanently to make a dent in global warming.
CO2 is long lived in the atmosphere, so you effectively need to reduce emissions to zero for a long-time before you begin to cancel out the effects from decades of past emissions.
‘Our paper shows that the actual effect of lockdown on the climate is small. The important thing to recognise is that we’ve been given a massive opportunity to boost the economy by investing in green industries – and this can make a huge difference to our future climate,’ Harriet Forster added.
How we act once the pandemic is over will be the deciding factor as to whether the world goes above the 1.5°C warming threshold by 2050. In order to prevent this from happening, we need to support cycling and walking, including electric bikes, as well as encouraging remote working where possible and encouraging a switch to electric cars, Harriet says.
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Topics: Science, carbon dioxide, Climate Change, lockdown, Now