1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

UN: Pandemic did not slow the pace of climate change

September 16, 2021

The results of the United in Science 2021 report are an "alarming appraisal of just how far off course we are," UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said.

A panoramic image of a coal-fired power plant
Global fossil fuel CO2 emissions in the power and industry sectors are at the same level as in 2019Image: Zoonar.com/DesignIt/picture alliance

The UN released a report on Thursday warning that the COVID-19 pandemic has not slowed the pace of climate change.

Virus-related economic slowdown and lockdowns caused only a temporary downturn in CO2 emissions last year, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said.

"There was some thinking that the COVID lockdowns would have had a positive impact on the atmosphere, which is not the case," WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said at a news briefing.

The United in Science 2021 report, which gathers the latest scientific data and findings related to climate change, said global fossil-fuel CO2 emissions between January and July in the power and industry sectors were already back to the same level or higher than in the same period in 2019, before the pandemic.

"This is a critical year for climate action," UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said, saying the results were an "alarming appraisal of just how far off course we are."

Largest carbon capture plant opens in Iceland

Pandemic pause was brief 

The WMO said that emissions reductions during the first COVID-19 wave in early 2020 represented a "brief lapse." 

"Overall emissions reductions in 2020 likely reduced the annual increase of the atmospheric concentrations of long-lived greenhouse gases, but this effect was too small to be distinguished from natural variability," the report concluded.

Although CO2 emissions from road traffic in 2021 have been below the levels before the pandemic outbreak, concentrations of the major greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming continued to increase, according to the report. 

"We are still significantly off-schedule to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement," UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said. 

"Unless there are immediate, rapid and large-scale  reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, limiting warming to 1.5C will be impossible, with catastrophic consequences for people and the planet on which we depend." Guterres said.

jcg/sms (dpa, Reuters)