The pandemic locked so many people down around the world that emissions from carbon dioxide dropped abruptly.
An international team of researchers compared the first six months of the year to the same period in 2019 and found an 8.8% drop in the polluting greenhouse gas.
This is the most significant decrease surpassing the financial crisis of 2008, the oil crisis of 1979 or even World War II.
The biggest decrease came mainly from the ground transportation sector (−18.6%), domestic (−35.8%) and international aviation (−52.4%).
The study, published in the latest issue of Nature Communications, shows the respite didn’t last long. As more countries rebound from quarantine, levels of CO2 emitting into the atmosphere also returned to usual levels.
The respite from harmful gases has not stopped the planet from heating up.
September 2020 was the warmest September since global record-keeping began in 1880, according to NOAA’s report on October 14.
Both NASA and the European Copernicus Climate Change Service also confirmed the records.
The planet has been heating up from extra CO2 produced by human activity. The gasses create a cap on the atmosphere making it more difficult for Earth to get rid of heat energy.
Researchers say brief reductions in CO2 atmospheric concentrations won’t slow the warming planet.
“While the CO2 drop is unprecedented, decreases of human activities cannot be the answer,” says Co-Author Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, founding director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. “Instead we need structural and transformational changes in our energy production and consumption systems. Individual behavior is certainly important, but what we really need to focus on is reducing the carbon intensity of our global economy.”