Global CO2 emissions barely fell 20% during Covid-19 lockdowns

London, 20 May 2020:

Global carbon emissions dropped by only 17% in April compared to last year, but still the lowest level since 2006, according to a report published yesterday.

Widespread quarantines around the world imposed to help contain the coronavirus pandemic have seen many people confined to their homes and travel halted.

This has had a significant impact on energy demand globally, according to a paper published in the scientific journal Nature Climate Change.

Researchers warned the positive effect will not last if governments do not introduce permanent measures to reduce harmful emissions.

Corinne Le Quéré, of the University of East Anglia in the UK who led the analysis, urged governments to include environmental measures in their economic stimulus packages.

“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.”

She encouraged “real, durable changes” – especially in ​​transport – to make the planet more able to cope with future crises.

“For example in cities and suburbs, supporting walking and cycling, and the uptake of electric bikes, is far cheaper and better for wellbeing and air quality than building roads, and it preserves social distancing.”

Co-author of the research Rob Jackson, of Stanford University in the US and chairman of the Global Carbon Project, said: “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.”

Scientists analysed the restrictions imposed in 69 countries responsible for 97% of global CO2 emissions and their daily effect in key sectors of activity between January and April compared to 2019.

During the peak of the closures on April 7 – when the most polluting regions China, the US, Europe and India were in lockdown – daily emissions fell by 17 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, according to the study.

This represented a decrease of 17% compared to 2019 with an average daily drop of 26% in each country.

Emissions from land transportation accounted for 43% of the drop, while power generation accounted for 19%, industry 25% and aviation 10%.

China reduced its emissions by 24%, the US by 32% and India by 26%, while in the European region the maximum decrease was 27%.

The authors modelled three potential de-escalation scenarios until the end of the year and found that an annual emission reduction of between 4% and 7% was likely for 2020.

The UN Environment Programme’s emissions gap report, which compares where greenhouse gas emissions are heading against where they need to be, states that a steady decrease in greenhouse gas emissions of 2.7% each year is needed to keep warming below two degrees Celsius.