Satellites have already picked up on the startling changes coronavirus has left in its wake. The density of greenhouse gases wafting over China has markedly cleared, a direct result of an outbreak that has shuttered industries and cancelled air travel.

An analysis shows that China’s emissions of CO2, a major greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change, has dropped by 25 percent since the crisis began.

China’s industries customarily shut down over the week-long New Year’s Holiday, when the epidemic was first identified in Wuhan. But they haven’t returned to normal operations since, as widespread closures have slashed the demand for energy.

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Coal consumption in power plants has dropped 36 percent, and oil refining capacity has been lowered by 34 percent. Cancellations by major airlines has also contributed to the CO2 decline, though not as markedly. Air travel in China bottomed out at 10 percent but has since climbed back up by 5 percent.

Altogether, China emitted 600 million tons of CO2 in the past four weeks — about 200 million tons less than expected.


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The International Energy Agency suggests the coronavirus could affect global oil demand in the first quarter of this year. 

There’s no sign yet of a full rebound, but as China heads back to work there could be a surge in greenhouse gasses, since factories and offices could be racing to catch up with suppressed demand.

For now, at least, the skies are a little clearer than they were at the beginning of the year.


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Published on Mar 09, 2020