Carbon emissions are on the rise again after a short blip when the pandemic brought entire industries and international travel to a halt. Emissions from burning fossil fuel dropped by an unprecedented 17% from the previous year during the peak of the lockdown in April, but by early June they had mainly returned to about 5% below 2019 levels, according to United in Science 2020, a report published on Wednesday coordinated by the World Meteorological Organization.
While overall emissions will fall more than ever this year , the drop won’t slow climate change and the five years through 2020 is set to be the warmest five-year period on record, according to the report. The concentration of carbon emissions shows no signs of peaking because humans continue to pump out carbon dioxide, although at a slightly lower rate than last year. Emissions of methane, which has much more heating potential, have also risen in the past decade.
“Greenhouse gas concentrations—which are already at their highest levels in 3 million years—have continued to rise,” said WMO Secretary General Petteri Taalas. “Whilst many aspects of our lives have been disrupted in 2020, climate change has continued unabated.”
Carbon emissions will this year fall between 4% and 7% compared with 2019, according to the Global Carbon Project, one of the report’s contributors. That’s the first drop since 2016, but it will only slightly impact the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
That level of emissions is not compatible with the most ambitious target of the 2015 Paris climate agreement. To keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial times, global emissions need to be cut in half by 2030. By comparison, global emissions were 36.7 billion metric tons last year.