Coronavirus could trigger the largest decline in carbon emissions since World War II


Carbon dioxide emissions could drop by the largest amount since World War II this year, as the coronavirus epidemic drives savings, says chair of a network of scientists providing benchmark emissions data a near stop.

Rob Jackson, who chairs the Global Carbon Project, which produces widely followed annual emission estimates, said carbon production could fall by more than 5% yoy – the first decline since a 1.4% reduction after the 2008 financial crisis.

“I would not be shocked to see a 5% or more drop in carbon dioxide emissions this year, which has not been observed since the end of World War II,” Professor Jackson told Reuters Earth systems science at Stanford University in California. in an email.

Global carbon emissions could drop 5% year-on-year in 2020 according to scientists, the first decline of any kind since 2008 and the largest decline since World War II (photo, nitrogen dioxide pollution in Europe in January and March this year)

Half of the world’s population is now blocked by coronaviruses, economies are closed while governments try to smooth the infection curve, leading to a huge reduction in pollution (photo, nitrogen dioxide pollution on China in December and February this year)

“Neither the fall of the Soviet Union, nor the various oil or savings and loan crises of the past 50 years are likely to have affected emissions the way this crisis is,” he said. he declares.

The prediction – among a range of new predictions produced by climatology researchers – represents a tiny ribbon of good news in the midst of the crisis: climatologists had warned governments around the world that global emissions should start to fall by 2020 to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. .

But the improvements are for all the wrong reasons, linked to a global health emergency that shook the world and infected more than 950,000 people – while shutting down factories, destroying airlines and forcing hundreds of millions of people to stay at home to slow contagion.

Experts warn that without structural change, the reductions in emissions from the coronavirus could be short-lived and have little impact on the levels of carbon dioxide that have accumulated in the atmosphere over the decades.

“This decrease is not due to structural changes, as soon as the containment ends, I expect the emissions to return close to where they were,” said Corinne Le Quéré, climatologist at the University of ‘East Anglia, in the east of England.

After global greenhouse gas emissions fell in the aftermath of the 2007-2008 global financial crisis, they regained a whopping 5.1% in the recovery, according to Jackson.

Charts comparing the amount of nitrogen dioxide pollution on the east coast of the United States between January and March. Nitrogen dioxide is released when carbon fuels, such as gasoline and natural gas, are burned for energy

Charts comparing the amount of nitrogen dioxide pollution on the west coast of the United States between January and March, after the locks were put in place

The pattern of a rapid rebound has already started to occur in China, where emissions have fallen by about 25% as the country closed factories and put in place strict measures on the movement of people to contain more coronavirus early this year, but have since returned to normal range.

This type of resilience underscores the scale of economic transformation that would be necessary to achieve the goals of an international agreement negotiated in Paris in 2015 to try to avoid the most catastrophic climate change scenarios.

A UN report released in November found that emissions should start to fall by an average of 7.6% per year to give the world a viable chance to limit the rise in average global temperatures to 1.5 ° C, the most ambitious goal in Paris.

“I don’t see any way that this is good news, except to prove that humans are the source of greenhouse gas emissions,” said Kristopher Karnauskas, associate professor in the Department of Atmospheric and Ocean Sciences ‘University of Colorado at Boulder.

With the world reliant on fossil fuels for 80% of its energy, emissions forecasts are often based on projections of global economic growth.

Last month Glen Peters, research director of the Center for International Climate Research in Oslo, predicted that carbon emissions would fall between 0.3% and 1.2% this year, using higher and lower forecasts for OECD global GDP growth.

A few days later, the Breakthrough Institute, a research center in California, predicted that emissions would decrease by 0.5 to 2.2%, basing its calculations on growth forecasts from JP Morgan, and assuming that world economy picks up in the second half.

Climate scientists urge governments to think about how to restart economies to ensure emissions do not return to pre-coronavirus levels (photo, nitrogen dioxide emissions in Spain before and after the lockout)

Reducing air pollution in 2020 shows how far governments must go to sustainably reduce emissions, scientists say (photo, nitrogen dioxide emissions in France before and after the lockout)

Satellite images showing how nitrogen dioxide emissions from the burning of carbon fuels fell in Italy before and after the lockout

“Our estimates indicate that the pandemic climate silver lining is extremely thin,” said Seaver Wang, a climate and energy analyst at the institute.

“It’s like going back in time and issuing the same amount as we were a few years ago – which was already too much. In the grand scheme of things, it really makes no difference.

Some predict a bigger blow to the economy. The London-based Center for Economics and Business Research estimates that global GDP will drop at least 4% this year, but with a “huge margin of error”.

This decline would be more than twice as large as the contraction of the financial crisis and the largest annual decline in GDP since 1931, except in wartime, the center said.

As governments launch gigantic stimulus packages to stop the collapse of their economies, investors are now watching the extent to which the United States, China, the European Union, Japan and other countries are embracing sources of low emission energy.

“Even if there is a decrease in emissions in 2020, say 10% or 20%, it is not negligible, it is important, but from a climatic point of view, it would be a small bump if the emissions dated back to the pre-COVID period – 19 crisis levels in 2021, ”said Pierre Friedlingstein, chair of mathematical modeling of the climate system at the University of Exeter in the south-west of England.

“This is why it is important to think about the nature of economic recovery plans around the world as countries come out of the most immediate health crisis,” said Dan Lashof, US director of the World Resources Institute.


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