Greenhouse gas emissions fell 17% during the pandemic

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Valued

daily carbon

shows

in 2020

100 million metric tonnes of

carbon dioxide per day

Source: Le Quéré et al., Nature Climate Change

Valued

daily carbon

shows

in 2020

100 million metric tonnes of

carbon dioxide per day

Source: Le Quéré et al., Nature Climate Change

Valued

daily carbon

shows

in 2020

100 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide per day

Source: Le Quéré et al., Nature Climate Change

Valued

daily carbon

shows

in 2020

100 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide per day

Source: Le Quéré et al., Nature Climate Change

The wave of closures and closed economies brought on by the coronavirus pandemic has fueled a dramatic drop in global greenhouse gas emissions, although it is not expected to last, a group of scientists reported on Tuesday.

As Covid-19 infections increased in March and April, countries around the world experienced a sudden reduction in driving, theft and industrial production, resulting in a surprising drop of more than one billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions. This includes a maximum drop in daily emissions of 17% in early April, according to research published in the journal Nature Climate Change. For some nations, the decline has been much more pronounced.

Lower carbon emissions by region

−10% change from

Daily average 2019

Lower carbon emissions by region

−10% variation compared to the 2019 daily average

Lower carbon emissions by region

−10% variation compared to the 2019 daily average

Carbon emissions decrease by region

−10% variation compared to the 2019 daily average

Scientists have long insisted that the world must dramatically reduce carbon pollution – and quickly – to mitigate the worst impacts of climate change in the coming decades, although no one has suggested that a global pandemic lethal be the way to get there.

Tuesday’s study predicts that total emissions for 2020 will likely be between 4 and 7 percent from the previous year – an unprecedented decline in normal times, but considerably less dramatic than the decline in the first few months of the year, when the savings stopped. The final figure for 2020 will depend on how quickly or how cautiously people around the world get back to ordinary life.

The unprecedented situation produced by Covid-19 offered a glimpse of the massive scale required to reduce global emissions, year after year, in order to achieve the most ambitious goals set by world leaders when they forged the Paris climate agreement 2015. Last fall, a United Nations report estimated that global greenhouse gas emissions should start to fall by 7.6% each year from 2020 to avoid the worst impacts of the climate change.

Tuesday’s study highlights how far the world remains from this long-term aspiration. The forced fall in greenhouse gas emissions in recent months, although extraordinary, has only reduced carbon pollution levels to those that were last observed in 2006. And the changes recent events should not last.

“History suggests it will be a mistake,” said Rob Jackson, a professor at Stanford and one of the authors of the peer-reviewed study, which is trying to assess the impact of the virus by nation and sector. economic. “The 2008 [financial] the crisis reduced global emissions by 1.5% for a year, and they increased by 5% in 2010. It was as if it had never happened. “


An aerial view shows light traffic on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles on April 15 during what would normally be evening rush hour. Federal data from March showed that Los Angeles had its longest range of “good” air quality since 1995. (Mario Tama / Getty Images)

Although the decline in emissions during the pandemic was unprecedented, it was relatively small in the fight against global warming. The maximum 17% drop in global emissions – which occurred in early April – meant that countries continued to generate more than 80% of carbon pollution.

Researchers say the experience demonstrates how far-reaching structural changes to the energy system are essential if the world is to reduce emissions significantly and sustainably.

“We can see now that behavior change alone will not be enough,” said Corinne Le Quéré, lead author of the study and director of the Tyndall Center for Climate Change Research.

Le Quéré said it expected to find even greater cuts in the power and industrial sectors during the pandemic. Instead, she said, many sources of carbon dioxide and other pollutants continued steadily, almost on autopilot, even though much of the world stopped.

The devices continue to operate, office buildings need to be maintained, and some factories continue to buzz.

“There is a lot of inertia in infrastructure, in the built environment,” she said. “It seems like a lot of things can work on their own, at least for a short time. “

Emissions have fallen before – during world wars and economic recessions, for example, and dramatically during the Great Depression. But experts do not believe that the modern world has experienced such a sudden and brutal plunge as in recent months.

“In absolute terms, it will be the largest,” said Glen Peters, one of the study’s authors and expert at the Center for International Climate Research in Norway. “In relative terms, you will have to go back a little [time] to find big changes like that. ”

Most researchers agree that emissions will practically rebound once countries reopen. Energy demand is already picking up as people get back on the road and many US states are starting to ease home orders, which has helped lower the price of a gallon of gasoline to less than $ 1 a barrel. some pumps.

Governments are also expected to start stimulating their economies with stimulus spending in the coming months. But the way leaders decide to spend this money could make a fundamental difference.

“Where they put that stimulus is really critical,” said Le Quere. “It is 2020, and we do not have much time to fight climate change. “

Some world leaders have pledged to push for a transition to greener economies following the pandemic.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said last week that his country’s efforts to cut emissions remained “intact” with Covid-19 and the economic turmoil it caused. He singled out airlines in remarks to Parliament last week, saying the sector must limit its carbon emissions even when normal flights resume.

“Inadvertently the planet this year [have] has significantly reduced its CO2 emissions.… We must consolidate these gains, ”said Johnson to lawmakers. “I don’t want to see us come back to an era of the same type of programming as in the past. Aviation, like all other sectors, must reduce its carbon. “


An Airparif weather balloon, responsible for monitoring air quality in Ile de France, flies near the Eiffel Tower in Paris, May 7, 2020. (Joel Saget / AFP / Getty Images)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel also said last month that she would support green investment as her country seeks to restore its economy.

“It will be all the more important that if we put in place economic stimulus packages, we must always keep a close watch on climate protection,” said Merkel. said a gathering of leaders focused on climate change.

The new research was conducted by Le Quéré, Jackson, Peters and 10 other colleagues affiliated with the Global Carbon Project.

Normally, global emissions are calculated on an annual basis; doing it faster, almost in real time, was a scientific challenge. Tuesday’s study used a combination of energy data from several sectors, as well as tightness data from closings in 69 countries that account for 97% of global greenhouse gas emissions, to estimate the reductions.

Results varied considerably from sector to sector. Aircraft emissions have dropped by almost 60% – but airlines account for a relatively small fraction of global emissions. Emissions from surface transportation, one of the main sources, fell 36% at the height of the closings.

Evolution of emissions by sector

-36% change from 2019 to April 7

-5000000

Metric tons

of carbon

dioxide

per day

Public buildings

and trade

Evolution of emissions by sector

-36% change from 2019 to April 7

-5000000

Metric tons

of carbon

dioxide

per day

Public buildings

and trade

Evolution of emissions by sector

-36% change from 2019 to April 7

-5 million metrics

tonnes of carbon

dioxide per day

Public buildings

and trade

Evolution of emissions by sector

-36% change from 2019 to April 7

-5 million metrics

tonnes of carbon

dioxide per day

Public buildings

and trade

-31% change from 2019 as of April 30

Evolution of emissions by sector

Public buildings

and trade

-36% change from 2019 to April 7

-5 million metrics

tonnes of carbon

dioxide per day

“Passenger vehicles are down a little more,” said Jackson. “Commercial vehicles and long-haul trucking are down much less. I’m staying at home, but the Amazon delivery vehicle continues to run. ”

Emissions from home energy use actually increased by about 3%, which is not surprising in an era when people are confined to their homes, using more devices, lighting , heating and air conditioning. But industrial demand for electricity fell, causing an overall net drop in electricity.

While some aspects of life may change as a result of the pandemic – more people working remotely, fewer commuters and frequent air travelers – individual changes are not expected to make much long-term mark on emissions, a said Zeke Hausfather, a scientist and director of climate and energy at the Breakthrough Institute.

“Unless something changes structurally, we can expect emissions to return to their previous level,” said Hausfather.

Hausfather also said that a year of deep emission reductions would do little to prevent global warming, which scientists say will continue unless the world dramatically cuts emissions for good.

“I don’t think there is a lot of silver lining to covet-19 for the climate,” he said, “unless we use the recovery as a chance at a time to boost the economy and build the type of infrastructure to support clean future energy. “

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