Coronavirus lockdowns prompt "extreme" dip in global carbon emissions
The lockdown orders implemented around the globe to control the spread of the novel coronavirus have led to a dramatic dip in some airborne pollutants, and a new study has revealed that carbon dioxide emissions have followed a similar trend. The analysis shows that daily CO2 emissions declined by 17 percent at the height of the stay-at-home measures, an “extreme” drop driven by a reduction in surface level transport and industrial activity.
The analysis was carried out by an international team of researchers working on Future Earth’s Global Carbon Project, an initiative to trace the impacts of human-generated greenhouse gases on the planet. It is described as the first analysis of global energy demands in response to the coronavirus, with the scientists looking at 69 countries, 50 US states and 30 provinces of China.
The 17-percent decline in CO2 emissions compared to 2019 levels came in early April, when confinement measures around the world were at their peak. The team says a decrease in surface transport, such as car travel, contributed 43 percent of this reduction, while declining emissions from industrial sources and power generation contributed another 43 percent. Interestingly, the team calculated that the decline in air travel as a result of the pandemic accounts for just 10 percent of the decline.
These changes are expected to be short-lived, however, with the researchers anticipating an upward tick in carbon emissions as the world shifts back toward regular economic activity. According to their projections on the impacts of easing restrictions around the globe, the total emissions for 2020 will only amount to a four to seven percent reduction on the 2019 figure. This is still shy of the 7.6-percent yearly reduction called for the by UN, which if achieved through to 2030 may limit global warming to 1.5 °C (2.7 °F) over pre-industrial levels.
“Population confinement has led to drastic changes in energy use and CO2 emissions,” says Professor Corinne Le Quéré of the University of East Anglia, who led the analysis. “These extreme decreases are likely to be temporary though, as they do not reflect structural changes in the economic, transport, or energy systems.”
As an indication of how insignificant these short-term dips in carbon emissions may be when considering the larger picture of climate change, scientists last week detected a record concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere. This reading came little more than a month after the extreme decrease in emissions reported in this new study, illustrating the kind of effort it will take to undo the decades' worth of CO2 buildup in the atmosphere.
“The drop in emissions is substantial but illustrates the challenge of reaching our Paris climate commitments,” says Professor Rob Jackson of Stanford University, Chair of the Global Carbon Project and co-author of the analysis. “We need systemic change through green energy and electric cars, not temporary reductions from enforced behavior.”
The team’s research was published in the journal Nature Climate Change.
Source: Global Carbon Project