Story at a glance

  • The Global Carbon Project predicts carbon dioxide emissions could drop by historic levels by the end of 2020.
  • The drop in emissions reflects the slowing down of production as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Climate scientists have previously cautioned that global emissions needed to start dropping by 2020 to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

Carbon dioxide emissions could fall by the largest amount since World War II this year, according to the Global Carbon Project, a faint silver lining on the dark cloud of the coronavirus pandemic. 

“I wouldn’t be shocked to see a 5 percent or more drop in carbon dioxide emissions this year, something not seen since the end of World War II,” Rob Jackson, who chairs the Global Carbon Project, told Reuters in an email. “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.”

This would be the first drop in carbon emissions since 2008, when a 1.4 percent reduction followed the financial crisis.

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As economic production drops due to the global pandemic, there has been visual evidence of a drop in pollution. But while the Global Carbon Project estimate is significant, it may also be temporary. 

Experts warn that once production ramps back up after the worst of the pandemic has passed, emissions will rebound. In China, where emissions fell by about 25 percent earlier this year, activity has already begun to return to normal levels.    

“This drop is not due to structural changes so as soon as confinement ends, I expect the emissions will go back close to where they were,” Corinne Le Quéré, a climate scientist at the University of East Anglia in eastern England, told Reuters. 


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Still, the sudden decline in emissions has come at a crucial time for climate change. Climate scientists have previously warned that global emissions must start dropping by 2020 to head off the worst impacts of climate change.

The Paris Agreement established in 2015 sought to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, which was to be met in 2020 if the rate of emissions in 2017 were maintained. The U.S. has since withdrawn from the agreement, and its future remains uncertain. 


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Published on Apr 13, 2020