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Study: World Carbon Pollution Falls 17 Percent During Health Crisis

FILE - In this April 26, 2020, file photo, empty lanes of the 110 Arroyo Seco Parkway that leads to downtown Los Angeles is seen during the coronavirus outbreak in Los Angeles, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File)

The world cut its carbon dioxide releases by 17 percent at the height of the COVID-19 shutdown last month, a new study says.

But now, as life returns to more usual operations, carbon dioxide is increasing again. And, the brief period of reduced air pollution is unlikely to have any substantial effect on climate change, scientists say.

The international research group Global Carbon Project did the study. The organization publishes a yearly estimate of worldwide carbon dioxide releases.

The findings show that for a week in April, the United States cut its carbon dioxide levels by about 30 percent. In China, the world’s biggest polluter, carbon dioxide releases decreased by almost 25 percent in February. The study also shows levels dropped by 27 percent in India and 26 percent in Europe.

The biggest drop happened from April 4 through 9. The world released 17 million metric tons of carbon pollution less than recorded on New Year’s Day.

The magazine Nature Climate Change published the study.

The report’s writers say pollution levels are already heading back up. However, they predict that 2020 will see a total carbon dioxide release of 4 to 7 percent lower than 2019, depending on COVID-19 restrictions. That would be the biggest yearly decrease in air pollution since World War II.

But, climate scientist and study leader Corinne LeQuere says the 2020 reduction could be meaningless if the world continues to slowly increase pollution levels. LeQuere is with the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom.

By April 30, the world carbon pollution levels had grown by 3 million metric tons a day from its low point earlier in the month.

Independent experts praised the study, saying it showed how much effort will be needed to stop additional climate change.

Pennsylvania State University climate scientist Michael Mann put it this way in an email: “Individual behavior alone ... won’t get us there.” He called for “structural change,” in how the world deals with carbon dioxide.

I’m Susan Shand.

The Associated Press reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.


Words in This Story

carbon dioxide – n. a colorless gas that is emitted from cars and other polluters