Energy & Environment

Daily carbon emissions drop 17 percent compared to last year: study

Between January and early April, global daily carbon dioxide emissions decreased by about 17 percent compared to average levels last year, according to a new study that illustrates the major climate effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

The study, published in Nature Climate Change, also projected that emissions would drop between 4 percent and 7 percent by the end of 2020 depending on the length of stay-at-home orders and other measures tied to the coronavirus pandemic.

The study showed much of the drop in emissions was due to a drop in travel. The sharpest decline in carbon emissions, making up 43 percent of the decrease, came from a reduction in traffic from cars, buses and trucks. There was also a drop in emissions from air travel.

However, the study noted that the emissions reductions are likely temporary because they “do not reflect structural changes in the economic, transport or energy systems” and many observers believe once the pandemic ends, past levels of emissions would resume.

Rob Jackson, study co-author and professor at Stanford University, said the globe needs systemic change through green energy and electric cars, not temporary reductions from enforced behavior.

“Emissions in China are now coming back. Emissions dropped in Europe and North America, and now they’re coming back. So the global system hasn’t changed really in a sustained way,” Jackson told The Hill in an interview earlier this month. 

In order to conduct the study, researchers measured country confinement levels and available economic data to estimate the extent that policies impacted emissions. 

The finding follows other estimates of emissions drops. The International Energy Agency (IEA) forecast in a report last month that global carbon dioxide emissions would decline by 8 percent this year. 

The IEA report found that during the first three months of 2020, global carbon dioxide emissions were 5 percent lower than in the first quarter of 2019. 

Environmentalists have also told The Hill that they fear the people will draw the wrong conclusions from such projections. 

“This drop definitely lets us know human activities are a big factor in heat trapping emissions. But that said, the lesson is not that you tank the global economy,” Brenda Ekwurzel, a climate scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists, said this month. “You can’t have lots and lots of lockdowns and think you’re solving the climate crisis.”

Rebecca Beitsch contributed.


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