Story at a glance

  • The drop is mostly due to lower output from oil refineries, lower coal use for power generation and steel-making.
  • The report said measures to contain the coronavirus have resulted in reductions of 15 to 40 percent in key industrial sectors.
  • More than 2,100 people have been killed by the virus since the outbreak began in December.

As one of the deadliest epidemics in decades continues to ravage China and bring its economy to a near standstill, greenhouse gas emissions from the world’s number one emitter of carbon dioxide have plummeted, according to a new report.

An analysis released by climate website Carbon Brief on Wednesday found electricity demand and industrial output are far below usual levels due to China's response to the deadly coronavirus that has killed more than 2,100 people and infected more than 74,000 in the country since the outbreak began in December.

The analysis found China’s carbon dioxide emissions fell by about 100 million metric tons – close to what Chile emits in a whole year – due to travel restrictions, longer holidays and lower economic activity prompted by the outbreak.

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“Measures to contain coronavirus have resulted in reductions of 15 percent to 40 percent in output across key industrial sectors,” the report said

“This is likely to have wiped out a quarter or more of the country’s CO2 (carbon dioxide) emissions over the past two weeks, the period when activity would normally have resumed after the Chinese New Year holiday,” Lauri Myllyvirta, an analyst at the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air, said in the report. 

Researchers looked at emissions over the past two weeks following the Chinese New Year holiday, the period when activity would normally have resumed, and compared it with the same period for the previous five years. 

Over the same period of time in 2019, China emitted 400 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, while this year’s figure is closer to 300 million metric tons, according to the report. 

The report says the reduction in emissions is mostly a result of lower output from oil refineries and lower coal use for power generation. 

If the reductions were to last, annual emissions from China will fall by just 1 percent, but researchers are weary as industries will likely ramp up output to make up for losses once infection rates begin to decrease.

Published on Feb 20, 2020