The Sunday News
Air pollution is slowly edging back to 2019 levels and is expected to rise again next year following the huge drop during the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers have warned.
It comes after a study found that global carbon emissions from using fossil fuels fell by a record amount in 2020 as a result of lockdowns around the world.
But researchers at the University of East Anglia (UEA), University of Exeter and the Global Carbon Project say emissions are expected to rise again in 2021 because the fall was so large this year.
They warned that greener measures are needed as economies recover – including encouraging cycling, walking and electric cars in the UK in a bid to deliver the annual emissions cuts required to curb climate change.
Lead researcher Professor Pierre Friedlingstein, of the University of Exeter, said we have a “unique opportunity” to make long-lasting change.
He said: “We are in a unique position now, not only because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but because of pre-existing climate policies, new green deals and net zero commitments.
“Countries responsible for 50% to 60% of global emissions are committed to net zero, and there will be large economic stimuluses being produced.
“All of this combined is a unique opportunity to actually tackle and break the long-term emissions in carbon dioxide and therefore climate change.
“There’s hope, but of course, action needs to be taken and followed.”
The analysis showed that the UK saw one of the biggest drops in emissions at 13% because of major reductions in transport – the largest source of climate pollution for the country – and was hit by two waves of government measures.
Emissions from industry could already be up to or above 2019 levels, however, and stimulus efforts by world governments have focused on existing sectors rather than new green technology and measures – though the UK is among those doing better on that front.
Sustained cuts of one to two billion tonnes in annual carbon dioxide emissions are required every year this decade to limit temperature rises, the researchers warn.
Professor Corinne Le Quere, from UEA, said: “All elements are not yet in place for sustained decreases in global emission, and emissions are slowly edging back to 2019 levels.
“Government actions to stimulate the economy at the end of the COVID-19 pandemic can also help lower emissions and tackle climate change.”
She added that action on transport in the UK would help limit the increase in emissions in the coming years.
“Stopping the rebound now would have to be done with encouraging walking and cycling and electric bikes if you want to do it quickly by 2021, and longer-term, it’s about electric mobility,” she said.
Transport made up the biggest share of falling emissions as car journeys were reduced and aviation was forced to halt.
And this month, global emissions from road transport were found to be still 10% below 2019 levels, while aviation pollution was 40% lower than last year.
Globally, carbon emissions from burning coal, gas and oil for power and transport, from manufacturing cement and from industrial processes fell by a record 2.4 billion tonnes – a 7% drop on 2019 levels. – SkyNews