The global blockage of COVID-19 has had an “extreme” effect on daily carbon emissions but is unlikely to last long. This is evidenced by the analysis of an international group of scientists in the journal Nature Climate Change.
The study shows that daily emissions were reduced by 17% or 17 million tons of carbon dioxide in the first 7 days of April. This happened around the world during the peak of restrictive measures in early April compared to the average daily levels in 2019, dropping to levels that were last seen in 2006.
Land transport emissions, such as road trips, account for nearly half (43%) of global emissions reductions during the April 7 peak cap. Emissions from industry and electricity together add up to another 43% reduction in daily global emissions.
Aviation is the economic sector most affected by the blockage, but only accounts for 3% of global emissions or 10% of emissions during a pandemic.
The increased use of residential buildings by people working at home only slightly offset the reduction in emissions in other sectors. In some countries, emissions fell by an average of 26% at the peak of their control.
The team analyzed government policies to limit emissions in 69 countries, which account for 97% of global CO2 emissions. Activity data showing how much the pandemic affected each sector of the economy was then used to estimate changes in fossil CO2 emissions for each day and country from January to April 2020.
The estimated total change in emissions from the pandemic is up to 1,048 million tons of carbon dioxide (Mt CO2) by the end of April. The biggest changes are in China, where the restriction began, with a decrease of 242 million tons of CO2, then in the USA (207 million tons of CO2), Europe (123 million tons of CO2), and India (98 million tons of CO2). The total change in the UK for January-April 2020 is estimated at 18 million tons of CO2.
It is estimated that the effect of the cap on annual emissions in 2020 will be about 4–7% compared with 2019, depending on the duration of the block and the degree of recovery. If the pre-pandemic conditions of mobility and economic activity return by mid-June, the decline will be about 4%. If some restrictions continue around the world until the end of the year, it will be about 7%.
This reduction is comparable to the number of annual emission reductions needed from year to year for decades to achieve the climate goals of the UN Paris Agreement.
The analysis also shows that social measures alone, without improving welfare and/or infrastructure support, will not lead to the deep and sustainable reductions needed to achieve net-zero emissions.
“Population restrictions have led to dramatic changes in energy use and CO2 emissions. These extreme reductions are likely to be temporary, as they do not reflect structural changes in economic, transport, or energy systems. The extent to which world leaders consider climate change when planning their economic measures after COVID-19 will affect global CO2 emissions paths for decades to come”.
Corinne Le Carey, Professor, University of East Anglia
There is scope for real, long-term change and greater resilience to future crises through the introduction of economic stimulus packages that also help achieve climate goals, especially with regard to mobility, which is half the reduction in emissions during detention.
For example, in cities and suburbs, the support of walking and cycling, as well as the use of electric bicycles, is much cheaper and better for well-being and air quality than road construction, and this preserves social distance.