Global carbon emissions continue to drop due to COVID-19 lockdowns

Depending on the duration of global lockdowns, researchers have suggested that daily carbon emissions will decrease by 17%.

A new study, published in Nature Climate Change, shows that daily carbon emissions have decreased by 17%. A 17 million tonne reduction in atmospheric carbon dioxide has seen emissions drop to levels that were last observed in 2006.

The impact of reduced transport and industry

A team of researchers found that emissions from surface transport account for 43% of the decrease in global emissions and a further 43% of this reduction is due to low industry activity. Although aviation is the economic sector most impacted by the lockdown, the industry has seen minimal reduction in emission.

Unfortunately, due to people being at home more often, residential emissions will marginally offset the reduced carbon emission from global industries. In individual countries, emissions have decreased by 26% on average at the peak of their confinement.

Co-author Professor Pierre Friedlingstein, of the Global Systems Institute at the University of Exeter, said: “To limit warming below 1.5°C, global emissions need to decline by about 7% per year over the coming decade. Although the current crisis is definitely not the way we wish to achieve such reductions, it illustrates that changes in personal behaviour, such as more home working and less travel, do have a direct impact on CO2 emissions.”

Further analysis of emission data

The analysis of this data was conducted by a research consortium led by the University of East Anglia and the University of Exeter. The team suggest that without supporting sustainable infrastructure, we will not see the reductions needed to reach net zero emissions.

Professor Corinne Le Quéré of the University of East Anglia, who led the analysis, 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. 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.”

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