Market in Santiago, Chile, April 2020. Measures during the corona pandemic lead to a decline in global carbon emissions.
Photo: ©FAO/Max Valencia

Decline in global carbon emissions

Global carbon emissions in early April were probably one-sixth lower than before the pandemic, according to estimates by an international research team. Nevertheless, the climate crisis is in no way defused by the corona pandemic, they warn.

Global carbon emissions in early April were 17 per cent lower than before corona, the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change (MCC) announced in late May 2020. The sharpest absolute declines result from traffic and production.

Researchers from scientific institutions from seven countries on three continents have generated a comprehensive flash estimate to quantify the effect of measures to reign-in the corona pandemic on the emission of CO2, the most important greenhouse gas. 

The flash estimate for 7 April 2020, comes to a corona-induced reduction of 17 megatons of CO2 per day – a reduction of 17 per cent relative to the pre-corona level of 100 megatons. Surface transport, with an estimated 7.5 megatons (corresponding to a 36 per cent reduction), accounts for the largest share of the daily 17 megatons less CO2.

Another 4.3 megatons (19 per cent decrease) are attributable to the production of goods and services, and 3.3 megatons (7 per cent decrease) to power generation. Air traffic accounts for 1.7 megatons (a decline of 60 per cent, presenting the largest relative anomaly), and the public sector for 0.9 megatonnes (21 per cent decrease). By contrast, there is a slight increase of 0.2 megatons (3 per cent) in private households.

Forecasts for carbon emissions
 

The researchers also provide in their study a forecast for carbon emissions by the end of the year, developing three different scenarios:

1.    If restrictions imposed in March are reduced to zero by mid-June, carbon emissions for the year 2020 will be about 4 per cent lower than without the coronavirus pandemic. 

2.    If restrictions are maintained until the end of May, and the situation returns to normal at the end of July, the reduction will be about 5 per cent. 

3.    If in addition to the second scenario, authorities need to break individual infection chains by the end of the year, and send those affected into quarantine, the reduction is about 7 per cent.

Climate crisis not defused by corona pandemic
 

The research team emphasises that the climate crisis is in no way defused by the corona pandemic. "After all, the scenarios for a successful fight against global warming, which scientists have been developing for years, are aimed at better, not worse, human well-being, despite reduced energy and resource consumption," explains Felix Creutzig, head of the MCC working group Land Use, Infrastructure and Transport and co-author of the study. "By contrast, the current disruption of demand is neither intended nor welcome. Our study is no reason for joy. Nevertheless, it provides important quantitative insights into how extreme measures affect CO2 emissions.”

In order to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels, emissions would have to fall by 6 per cent every year, rather than just once. "Politicians must keep this in mind when they organise economic recovery once the pandemic has been contained," emphasises MCC researcher Creutzig. "State stimulus packages will probably shape the path of global carbon emissions for decades to come. It is quite possible to reconcile this context with climate policy. But if climate policy is weakened, even higher emission paths than without the corona pandemic are likely in the long term, despite the current decline."

(MCC/ile)

Read more at MCC website

Reference of the cited article:
Le Quéré, C., Jackson, R., Jones, M., Smith, A., Abemethy, S., Andrew, R., De-Gol, A., Willis, D., Shan, Y., Canadell, J., Friedlingstein, P., Creutzig, F., Peters, G., 2020, Temporary reduction in daily global CO2 emissions during the COVID-19 forced confinement, Nature Climate Change