COVID-19 slashes global carbon emissions by more than a sixth

Worldwide lockdowns brought on by the coronavirus crisis have seen carbon emissions fall by more than a sixth, dropping to levels last observed in 2006.


That is according to the findings of a new study led by the University of East Anglia, which show that daily emissions fell by 17% during the peak of confinement measures in early April compared to mean levels in 2019.

Emissions are projected to fall by 4% to 7% for 2020, depending on the duration of lockdowns and the extent of recoveries, which is comparable with what is needed every year to deliver the Paris Agreement.

However, the analysis also shows that social responses alone, without increases in wellbeing and/or supporting infrastructure, will not drive the deep and sustained reductions needed to reach net zero emissions.

Professor Corinne Le Quéré of the University of East Anglia, said: “Population confinement has led to drastic changes in energy use and CO2 emissions. These extreme decreases are likely to be temporary though, as they do not reflect structural changes in the economic, transport, or energy systems.

“The extent to which world leaders consider climate change when planning their economic responses post-COVID-19 will influence the global CO2 emissions paths for decades to come.”

Emissions from surface transport, such as car journeys, accounted for 43% of the decrease, with emissions from industry and power responsible for a further 43% of the reduction.

Aviation is the economic sector most impacted by the lockdown, but the analysis shows that it only accounts for 10% of the decrease in daily global emissions during the pandemic.

The increase in the use of residential buildings from people working at home only marginally offset the drop in emissions from other sectors. In individual countries, emissions decreased by 26% on average at the peak of their confinements.

Professor Rob Jackson of Stanford University, who co-authored the analysis, added: “The drop in emissions is substantial but illustrates the challenge of reaching our Paris climate commitments. 

“We need systemic change through green energy and electric cars, not temporary reductions from enforced behaviour.”


Image credit: iStock


Chris Seekings is a reporter for TRANSFORM

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