Experts say the global COVID-19 shutdown should not be an excuse to stop climate action.

Efforts to control the Coronavirus pandemic have reduced economic activity and led to localised improvements in air quality.

According to an analysis carried out for Carbon Brief, the lockdown and reduction in economic activity in China led to an estimated 25 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions over four weeks.

Observations have shown that nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels are significantly reduced during the lockdown in both China and Italy.

In Italy, a gradual reduction trend of about 10 per cent per week over the last four to five weeks have been confirmed by surface observations from the EU’s Copernicus Atmospheric Monitoring Service.

However, it is too early to assess the implications for concentrations of greenhouse gases which are responsible for long-term climate change. 

Even with so much contraction, carbon dioxide levels at key observing stations have so far this year been higher than last year.

Any cuts in emissions as a result of the economic crisis triggered by COVID-19 are not a substitute for concerted Climate Action, according to the World Meteorological Organization.

“Despite local reductions in pollution and improvement in air quality, it would be irresponsible to downplay the enormous global health challenges and loss of life as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” says WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas. 

“However, now is the time to consider how to use economic stimulus packages to support a long-term switch to more environmentally and climate-friendly business and personal practices.

“Past experience suggests that emissions declines during economic crises are followed by a rapid upsurge. We need to change that trajectory.

“The world needs to demonstrate the same unity and commitment to climate action and cutting greenhouse gas emissions as to containing the Coronavirus pandemic.

“Failure in climate change mitigation could lead to greater human life and economic losses during the coming decades,” he said.