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DATE: May 23, 2020

SNIP: If you’re looking for a silver lining to the coronavirus pandemic, your reduced carbon footprint unfortunately isn’t it, climate scientists warn.

Even with this week’s climate change study in the journal Nature citing a 17 per cent drop in daily CO2 emissions compared to this time last year, experts caution against the temptation to inflate the significance of a few weeks or months of reduced human activity, at least when it comes to climate change.

“Think about it this way,” says renowned Canadian climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe. “We’ve been putting a brick on a pile every month since the beginning of the industrial revolution.

“Last month we put a 20 per cent smaller-sized brick on that pile that has thousands of bricks already on it. That one slightly smaller brick is not going to make a big difference.”

Looking at annual projections for 2020, the metaphorical brick Hayhoe uses to represent CO2 emissions is expected to be four to seven per cent smaller this year than in 2019. Even at a seven per cent reduction, emissions for 2020 will be roughly the same as 2011, says Corinne Le Quéré, one of the authors of this week’s Nature study.

After a world’s worth of cancelled vacations, eliminated work commutes, shuttered business and virtually extinguished social lives, how is that possible?

While the pandemic has led to a temporary drop in emissions related to things like personal transportation, other carbon-intensive practices continue, from supplying homes with electricity, to manufacturing and transporting goods.