Energy & Environment

Global carbon dioxide emissions predicted to plunge ‘unprecedented’ 8 percent this year

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Gases that trap heat in the atmosphere, such as carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases, are called greenhouse gases.

Global carbon dioxide emissions are expected to decline this year by a record 8 percent amid the economic slowdown caused by the coronavirus, according to a new report. 

The International Energy Agency (IEA) stated in its report that the year-over-year drop will likely be six times larger than the previous record reduction in 2009.

“Not only are annual emissions in 2020 set to decline at an unprecedented rate, the decline is set to be almost twice as large as all previous declines since the end of World War II combined,” the report stated. 

The IEA found that during the first three months of 2020, global emissions were 5 percent lower than in the first quarter of 2019, largely attributed to decreases in emissions from coal, oil and natural gas.

During that period, emissions in the U.S. declined 9 percent, although the report stated that mild weather conditions also contributed to the U.S. decline.

“CO2 emissions fell more than energy demand, as the most carbon-intensive fuels experienced the largest declines in demand during [the first quarter of] 2020,” the report stated. 

The agency warned that like in other crises, the rebound in emissions could be larger than the drop unless “the wave of investment to restart the economy is dedicated to cleaner and more resilient energy infrastructure.”

The IEA projected a significant 6 percent decline in energy demand this year, with a 9 percent decline in oil demand and an 8 percent drop in coal demand expected.  

It also projected reductions in demand for gas and nuclear power, but said that demand for renewables was expected to increase because of low operating costs and “preferential access to many power systems.”

“If lockdowns last for many months and recoveries are slow across much of the world, as is increasingly likely, annual energy demand will drop by 6% in 2020, wiping off the last five years of demand growth,” the report said. “Such a decline has not been seen for the past 70 years.”

Experts have previously told The Hill that carbon emissions were expected to decline this year but described that decline as a blip in the ongoing trend toward unsustainable emissions levels. 

“The damage from CO2 just accumulates, so every ton we don’t release is not inflicted on the environment, but if everything goes back to business as usual when this ends, it won’t have much of an impact,” David Archer, a professor of geophysical sciences at the University of Chicago, said last month.

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