Fact check: The coronavirus pandemic isn’t slowing climate change

By Matthew Brown for USA Today

The claim: Drops in carbon emissions aren’t enough to significantly curb climate change

With the coronavirus pandemic shutting down most global activity, a consequent crash in global carbon emissions has been widely reported.

While analysts agree the historic lockdowns will significantly lower emissions, some environmentalists argue the drop is nowhere near enough.

Carbon accumulation, climate change

"The reported drops in carbon emissions and other greenhouse gases, while helpful, are insufficient to slow climate change,” Alex Hall, a professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences at UCLA, told USA TODAY.

Because changes in the climate are the result of decades of accumulating greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, one year of slightly falling emissions will not counter long-term effects, Hall said.

“Those emissions took place over of the past several decades,” he said. “To affect ongoing and future climate change, the recent emissions drop would have to be sustained over a much longer period than the likely duration of the coronavirus outbreak.”

The current drop in emissions is also not yet detectable in total carbon dioxide concentrations, according to Benjamin Houlton, a professor of environmental science at University of California, Davis. “The challenge is that carbon dioxide has an average lifespan of around 100 years in the atmosphere,” he told USA TODAY.

Emissions would need to drop by more than 25% to see a total drop in the amount of carbon in the atmosphere, and thus slow an annual global rise in temperatures, Houlton explained.

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