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COVID-19: Biggest Impact on CO2 Emissions

While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact the medical system, societies, and the world saw an unprecedented decline in CO2 emissions—more extensive than the decline during the financial crisis of 2008, the oil crisis of 1979, or even World War II. An international team of researchers has found 8.8%, equal to 1551 million tonnes of CO2 less, during the first six months of 2020, than the emission of 2019, during the same period.

The result of the groundbreaking study is now published in the journal Nature Communications on Oct 14, 2020 (Liu et al. 2020).

“What makes our study unique is the analysis of meticulously collected near-real-time data” explains lead author Zhu Liu from the Department of Earth System Science at Tsinghua University in Beijing. “In April, at the height of the first wave of Corona infections, when most major countries shut down their public life and parts of their economy, emissions even declined by 16.9 %.

Overall, the various outbreaks resulted in emission drops that we normally see only on a short-term basis on holidays such as Christmas or the Chinese Spring Festival.”

“The greatest reduction of emissions was observed in the ground transportation sector,” explains Daniel Kammen, Professor and Chair of the Energy and Resources Group and also a professor in the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley.

“Largely because of working from home restrictions, transport CO2 emissions decreased by 40 % worldwide. In contrast, the power and industry sectors contributed less to the decline, with -22 % and -17 %, respectively, as did the aviation and shipping sectors.

In the study, the scientists collected and analyzed precise, hourly datasets of electric power production in 31 countries, daily vehicle traffic in more than 400 cities worldwide, daily global passenger flights, monthly production data for industry in 62 countries as well as fuel consumption data for building emissions in more than 200 countries.

CO2 Emission
CO2 Emission

They observed that the decrease of CO2 emission corresponds to lockdown measures in each country. By Jul 1, the pandemic’s effects on global emissions diminished as lockdown restrictions relaxed and some economic activities restarted, especially in China and several European countries, but in the U.S., Brazil, and India where the number of COVID cases continued to remain high emission decline continues.

Thus, the authors emphasized that a complete overhaul of the industry and commerce sector is the only valid strategy to stabilize the climate. Co-author Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, founding director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, stated that a decrease in human activity to reduce CO2 emission is not a solution.

“Instead we need structural and transformational changes in our energy production and consumption systems. Individual behavior is certainly important, but what we really need to focus on is reducing the carbon intensity of our global economy.”—stated the author.

Related Publication

Liu, Z., P. Ciais, et al. (2020). “Near-real-time monitoring of global CO2 emissions reveals the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.” Nature Communications 11(1): 5172.
(Note: The content may have been edited for style and setting.)

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