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Why a 17% emissions drop does not mean we are addressing climate change

As well as fossil fuels—not instead of. Credit: science photo / shutterstock The global COVID-19 quarantine has meant less air pollution in cities and clearer skies. Animals are strolling through public spaces, and sound pollution has diminished, allowing us to hear the birds sing.

But these relatively small and temporary changes should not be mistaken for the COVID-19 pandemic actually helping to fix climate change. Quite the contrary: the pandemic that made the world stop offers a glimpse of the deep changes in lifestyles and economic structures that we need to implement if we are to effectively mitigate the worst of climate change.

The short-term effects are not in doubt. A new study in Nature Climate Change led by scientists from the University of East Anglia and Stanford has found that daily global CO₂ emissions in early April 2020 were down 17% compared to the mean level of emissions in 2019.

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This finding backs up an earlier report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) which found that CO₂ emissions from fossil fuel combustion —globally, the main source of greenhouse gas emissions—in the first three months of 2020 were 5% lower compared to the same period last year.

But the short-term and long-term effects […]

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