Quirks & Quarks

COVID gave climate scientists a natural experiment. Here's what they learned

Because of COVID-related lockdowns, global carbon emissions were down 7% in 2020. But a new study shows that will only have a minimal impact on our warming climate.

Carbon emissions dropped 7% in 2020, but that had only a minimal impact on our warming climate

Because of COVID-related lockdowns, global carbon emissions were down 7 per cent in 2020. But a new study shows that will only have a minimal impact on our warming climate. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

While a pandemic is not an ideal way to curb emissions, it has given scientists an unprecedented look at what can happen when the world partially shuts down. 

This week, a new study from the Global Carbon Project revealed global carbon emissions declined 7 per cent last year. 

"The drop in 2020 was approximately 2.6 billion tons of CO2 that we put in the atmosphere,"  said Corinne LeQuéré, a Royal Society professor of climate change science with the University of East Anglia and co-author of the study.

"We've never seen such a big drop, it's as big as the emissions in the entirety of the European Union." 

But what kind of effect will this pause have — in the short and the long run?

That was the subject of another new study released this week, led by John Fyfe, a Senior Research Scientist with Environment and Climate Change Canada. Their team used computer models to look at the effects of these emission reductions, and found that the impact on the global climate was minimal.

"It tells us that temporary emission reductions won't cut it in terms of trying to achieve climate goals," he told Quirks & Quarks host Bob McDonald. "That's not enough. The changes that have to happen, have to be one year after another, and so on, for a long period of time before we're going to really stabilize climate."

You can listen to Fyfe's full interview with Bob McDonald at the link above.


Written and produced by Amanda Buckiewicz

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