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WMO Secretary-General: Covid-related dip in emissions now over

Petteri Taalas told Yle that China's moves on climate are significant.

Kuvassa on Petteri Taalas Ylen tiloissa Pasilassa 24. lokakuuta 2020.
World Meteorological Organisation Secretary-General Petteri Taalas appeared on Yle's Ykkösaamu programme on Saturday 24 October. Image: Silja Viitala / Yle

The Finnish Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) says that coronavirus has only had a temporary effect on carbon emissions.

Speaking to Yle on Saturday, Petteri Taalas said that the pandemic reduced emissions earlier in the year, but the numbers are now back to previous levels.

"In the last couple of months carbon dioxide emissions have returned nearly to 2019 levels," said Taalas.

Large-scale lockdowns across the world brought emissions down in the spring worldwide, with the WMO's Global Carbon Project suggesting that April saw a 17 percent reduction in emissions compared to 2019.

That was down to decreased use of transport and lower industrial production.

Over the whole year, emissions are expected to be between four and seven percent lower than in 2019.

Climate change unaffected by pandemic

The World Health Organisation (WHO) and WMO jointly held a conference in August to evaluate the impact climate had on the pandemic.

"Seasonal flu is often dependent on the weather, but nothing like that has been found in relation to the current pandemic," said Taalas.

Several diseases are affected by the climate, with changes in prevailing weather conditions prompting peaks and troughs in malaria, dengue fever, cholera and, in Finland, illnesses carried by ticks.

Taalas claims that climate change can be mitigated via relatively small changes in everyday life and relatively minor economic costs.

Fighting coronavirus has led to significant restrictions on people's lives, and significant economic losses. On the other hand, coronavirus is a relatively short-term shock, whereas failing to mitigate climate change would lead to hundreds of years of negative consequences for the global economy and people's living standards.

"It's essential to solve both," said Taalas. "In the short term corona and its economic effects are the most significant thing. In the coming decades climate change is humanity's greatest challenge."

Taalas is optimistic that climate change can be mitigated, as he says there is time to find solutions.

"There's reason to be optimistic that this problem can be resolved and in the best case scenario we get to the Paris conference goal of restricting warming to 1.5-2 degrees Celsius," said Taalas.

"The measures that we need to mitigate climate change are significantly less dramatic than those that are needed to fight Covid," said Taalas. "We can beat climate change with quite small measures and quite small financial costs."

US election could affect climate

Taalas said that American action on climate could come even if Donald Trump, who withdrew from the Paris Climate Accord, wins the presidential election in November.

"Trump has publicly said that he doesn't want to advance the issue, but the country will in any case move in the right direction, especially at the corporate and state level," said Taalas.

If Biden wins, climate action could be more systematic.

"Biden has announced that if he wins, they'll return to the Paris agreement," said Taalas. "The USA has still been involved in the negotiations."

Taalas had warm words for China's decision to go for carbon neutrality by 2060.

"This is a big challenge for China, because China's energy production is based on coal, and they have quite a lot of cars right now," said Taalas. "It's wonderful news that China is going for this target. China is the number one source of emissions at this moment."

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