CO2 emissions rise, despite the pandemic’s offset

A recent Guardian report states that Carbon Dioxide levels continued to rise despite the pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic slowed down manufacturing across the globe, especially nations such as China where the nations’ lockdown reportedly reduced carbon emissions by around 25% over a four-week period. This was a very promising figure for China which already struggles vastly with pollution as 49,000 people die because of pollution-related diseases in Shanghai annually alone. This means as China is a manufacturing-led economy as a secondary industry, specialising in steel also, this reduction meant it could focus on environmental goals; however, this has been short-lived.

Despite these slowdowns in carbon emissions, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere hit 419 parts per million in May. This is an alarming figure as persistent exposure to this much pollution can harm people's health in the long term.

The levels have now reached the dangerous milestone of being 50% higher than when the industrial age began – and the average rate of increase is faster than ever, the Guardian reports. This shows that if China rapidly seeks development to become on par with other wealthy nations, the rapid rise in GDP can have devastating impacts on the environment. “Reaching 50% higher carbon dioxide than pre-industrial is really setting a new benchmark and not in a good way,” said the Cornell University climate scientist, Natalie Mahowald. This shows how China is not meeting sustainable targets in the long term and is focused more on the growth of the economy. This is the highest measurement of greenhouse gases in the 63 years in which the data has been recorded. The 10-year average rate of increase also set a record, now up to 2.4 parts per million per year, a staggering amount.

The rise in emissions however has many negative externalities for the population, as health issues become more and more prominent. This will be due to the wider dependency on Chinese health care, limiting their resources. Furthermore, if people are unable to work, they will take time off work and therefore not contribute to the workforce which leads to a fall in the economy's productive capacities also, at least for the short run. Consequently, the detriment to the economy must inevitably be considered by the CCP of China to achieve long term sustainability.

However, the annual increase of 1.8 parts per million in May was slightly less than in previous years, though monthly measurements from 2021 show this year may be closer to the average increase of 2.3 parts per million. This, therefore, is good news and should be a starting point and an incentive for the Chinese government to do more and also make changes to become more carbon neutral as well.

The United Nations Environment Programme report finds countries need to cut their global emissions by 7.6% every year for the next decade, in order to keep global warming at its lowest. This however is hard for developing or newly emerging economies that rely on secondary industry, such as China and also India which have a monumental combined population of almost 2.8 billion people, which will majoritively soon edge towards the middle class, therefore demanding cars and thereby oil, increasing emissions even further, which is why the Paris agreement is essential to ensure economies are ready for the global shift in 2050 which is ahead.

The UK is at the forefront of global efforts coinciding with the Paris agreement, as have already established various solar power stations, nuclear plants such as Hinkley Point C and also converting car garages into electric hook up points too. This has all been a very thought about and a long arranged process to pursue carbon to be neutral by 2050, and also to stop the production of petrol/diesel cars by 2030 as well. Therefore emerging economies like China must be well prepared for this in order to not face any economic sanctions and also trade blocs too, which the UN and EU could enforce, and lower emissions in our great attempt to save our planet.


Witten by Euan Taylor.


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