Global CO2 emissions fall during lockdowns

James Marshall
May 21, 2020

"These numbers put in perspective both the large growth in global emissions observed over the past 14 years and the size of the challenge we have to limit climate change in line with agreements struck in Paris in 2016 to tackle the threat", the study's authors wrote.

The world cut its daily carbon dioxide emissions by 17 percent at the peak of the coronavirus pandemic shutdown last month, a new study has found.

A cut to manufacturing activity that spread to the United States, Europe and India resulted in a substantial cut to energy use across both electricity generation and manufacturing.

Of the total emission change, the largest contribution came from a reduction in surface transport, at 43 percent.

It provides an interesting insight into how emissions may be reduced in the transport sector where cuts have otherwise proven elusive.

Emissions from surface transport, such as auto journeys, accounted for nearly half of the decrease in global emissions during the peak confinement day on April 7.

The figure will be seven percent if the strictest lockdown rules remain all year long across much of the globe, and four percent if they are lifted soon.

Aviation is the economic sector most impacted by the lockdown, but it only accounts for 3% of global emissions, or 10% of the decrease in emissions during the pandemic, researchers said.

The data covers the 69 countries that account for 97% of all carbon emissions globally.

The researchers said that the fall in emissions was only slightly offset by increases in residential emissions, as people work from home increasing demand on residential energy use. For context, the Washington Post notes that a United Nations report last year said emissions must fall 7.6% a year starting in 2020 to avoid the worst effects of a warming climate.

While air travel has been significantly impacted by restrictions on worldwide travel, the overall impact on global emissions was comparatively small.

The biggest global drop was from April 4 through 9 when the world was spewing 18.7 million fewer tonnes of carbon pollution a day than on New Year's Day.

"The emissions reductions occurring because of COVID-19 will clearly be unprecedented".

"Opportunities exist to make real, durable, changes and be more resilient to future crises, by implementing economic stimulus packages that also help meet climate targets, especially for mobility, which accounts for half the decrease in emissions during confinement". Given the impact of the pandemic on the United States, Europe, China, and Russian Federation, some of the highest emitters of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, the level of CO2 fell dramatically over the last few months.

Scientists have completed the first comprehensive look at how the pandemic has affected greenhouse gas emissions, and the big stat is eye-popping.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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