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CO2 levels hit record high despite emissions dip from coronavirus

Jun 5, 2020

By Adam Vaughan

Lockdowns and economic slowdowns during the coronavirus pandemic have had no visible impact on the amount of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere, according to new data which shows levels of the greenhouse gas hit record highs last month.

Atmospheric concentrations of CO2 have been marching upwards for decades due to humanity’s activities. Figures published today by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, California, show a new monthly high of 417 parts per million (ppm) on average in May, up from 414.8 ppm a year before.

Monthly concentrations only breached the symbolic 400 ppm milestone six years ago, and growth has accelerated in the past decade. While the covid-19 crisis is expected to cut global emissions by the biggest amount since the second world war, that fall is likely to have little effect on the atmospheric CO2 that is driving climate change.

Richard Betts at the UK Met Office says: “It’s not surprising. The analogy I use is filling a bath from a tap. The water from the tap is the emissions and the water level in the bath is the concentrations. We’re still putting CO2 into the atmosphere, it’s just building up slightly less fast than before. What we need to do is turn the tap off.”

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