By Laura Millan Lombrana, Akshat Rathi and Hayley Warren
Add this to your already long list of 2020 oddities: Greenhouse gas emissions are projected to experience their steepest drop in modern history while the world remains on track to mark its second-hottest, if not hottest, year.
The two facts demonstrate the relentless pace of climate change and the extreme measures we need to take to slow it down. It’s a perverse race: The later we cut emissions, the faster the planet warms. Right now, it’s one humanity is losing.
While temperatures can vary from one year to another, the trend is clear: Nine of the 10 hottest years on record have happened during the 21st century.
The pandemic lockdowns and the dramatic decline in economic activity that followed will reduce emissions this year by an estimated 8%. But the level of carbon dioxide will continue to climb as long as humanity continues to add it to the atmosphere.
Emissions need to come down to zero by midcentury to keep warming below 1.5C. That will require a 7% decline every year during this decade.
Those in poor countries who can’t afford air conditioning will bear the brunt disproportionately, according to a recent study from the Climate Impact Lab. By 2100, heat alone could kill as many people as now succumb to heart disease, humanity’s biggest killer.