Technology & Science

Global CO2 emissions could drop by as much as 7% in 2020 due to pandemic, researchers suggest

Global carbon dioxide emissions could fall by as much as seven per cent this year, depending on continuing restrictions and social distancing measures during the coronavirus pandemic, research published in the journal Nature Climate Change says.

Canadian scientist says extreme decreases are likely to be temporary

A new study suggests that CO2 emissions have dropped due to lockdowns and shutdowns from across the globe. However, it is unclear how long this trend will last. (J. David Ake/The Associated Press)

Global carbon dioxide emissions could fall by as much as seven per cent this year, depending on continuing restrictions and social distancing measures during the coronavirus pandemic, research published in the journal Nature Climate Change indicated on Tuesday.

The study, by a group of scientists from institutions in Europe, the United States and Australia, analyzed daily CO2 emissions across 69 countries, 50 U.S. states, 30 Chinese provinces, six economic sectors, and three levels of confinement, using data from daily electricity use and mobility tracking services.

In 2019, the world emitted around 100 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per day by burning fossil fuels and cement production, the research said.

In early April 2020, emissions fell to 83 million tonnes per day, a drop of 17 per cent, and some countries' emissions dropped by as much as 26 per cent on average during the peak of the confinement.

If pre-pandemic conditions return by mid-June, then 2020 emissions could decline by four per cent compared with 2019, but if restrictions remain worldwide until the end of the year, then emissions could drop by seven per cent, the report added.

A combination of two animated images show the fluctuation of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) emissions across Europe from January 2020 until March 11, 2020. This most recent study found that, not only did NO2 emissions drop, but so did CO2. (European Space Agency/Reuters)

This would be the largest single annual decrease in absolute emissions since the end of World War II.

A UN report last year said emissions needed to drop by 2.7 per cent a year keep warming well below 2 C, and 7.6 per cent a year to keep below 1.5 C.

Temporary decrease

"Population confinement has led to drastic changes in energy use and CO2 emissions," said Canadian lead author Corinne Le Quere from the University of East Anglia.

"These extreme decreases are likely to be temporary, however, as they do not reflect structural changes in the economic, transport or energy systems," she added.

China saw the largest drop in emissions in April, followed by the United States, Europe and India.

A near empty street in downtown Vancouver, British Columbia. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

In the countries with the strictest lockdown restrictions, emissions from aviation plunged 75 per cent in early April, while emissions from land transport fell by 50 per cent and from power generation by 15 per cent.

Emissions from industry declined by around 35 per cent, with a lack of data causing some uncertainty. Emissions from residential buildings, however, increased by five per cent, the study said.

"The emissions reductions occurring because of COVID-19 will clearly be unprecedented. What is less certain is how the economy will rebound in late 2020 and 2021," said Glen Peters at the CICERO Center for International Climate Research in Norway, which took part in the study.

"As different countries and sectors recover, it is unclear if activity levels will return to normal levels or if we may see permanent shifts in behaviour," he added.

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