Story at a glance

  • An international team of researchers behind the study published in the journal Nature Communications found 8.8 percent less carbon dioxide was emitted in the first six months of this year when compared to the same period in 2019.
  • The study found that the most significant decrease of emissions occurred in the ground transportation sector as a large number of people worked from home.
  • The study, however, states that by July 2020 when lockdown measures were lifted most economies resumed their usual levels of CO2 emissions.

The world saw an unprecedented drop in carbon dioxide emissions during the first half of 2020 due to coronavirus lockdowns intended to curb the spread of the virus that has infected nearly 40 million people. 

An international team of researchers behind the study published in the journal Nature Communications found 8.8 percent less carbon dioxide was emitted in the first six months of this year when compared to the same period in 2019. That’s a total drop of 1551 million metric tons, the largest fall in emissions in modern history over the first half of the year. 


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Researchers used near-real-time data of electricity power production in 31 countries, daily vehicle traffic in more than 400 cities, passenger flights and fuel consumption. 

The decrease was larger than those seen during the recent 2008-09 global financial crisis and during World War II, although average emissions are much higher than during that time. 

“In April, at the height of the first wave of Corona infections, when most major countries shut down their public life and parts of their economy, emissions even declined by 16.9 percent,” Zhu Liu, from the Department of Earth System Science at Tsinghua University in Beijing, said in a statement

“Overall, the various outbreaks resulted in emission drops that we normally see only on a short-term basis on holidays such as Christmas or the Chinese Spring Festival.” 

Researchers found that the most significant decrease of emissions occurred in the ground transportation sector due to working from home restrictions. Ground transportation emissions fell by 40 percent globally. 

The study, however, states that by July 2020 when lockdown measures were lifted most economies resumed their usual levels of CO2 emissions and would have a minor effect on the long-term concentration in the Earth’s atmosphere. 

“While the CO2 drop is unprecedented, decreases of human activities cannot be the answer,” Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, the study’s co-author and founding director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, said in a statement. 

“Instead we need structural and transformational changes in our energy production and consumption systems. Individual behavior is certainly important, but what we really need to focus on is reducing the carbon intensity of our global economy,” he said. 


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Published on Oct 14, 2020