April Saw a 17% Drop in Daily Global Carbon Emissions Thanks to COVID-19; 2020 Target under Paris Agreement Could Be within Reach

published: 2020-06-13 13:30 | editor: | category: News

Global carbon emissions have plummeted in the past few months as the measures implemented by governments worldwide for suppressing the COVID-19 outbreak have dramatically curtailed a wide range of economic and social activities. Data from a new scientific report indicate that the daily average amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) created by human activities worldwide in early April of this year was 17% lower than the average level for 2019 and comparable to the total for 2006. However, the authors of this report said that the recent decline in global emissions of artificially generated greenhouse gases is a temporary trend, and its positive effect on climate change is like “a drop in the ocean.”

The report, titled “Temporary Reduction in Daily CO2 Emissions during the COVID-19 Forced Confinement,” is the first analysis by climate scientists about the decline in CO2 emissions that occurred from the emergence of the COVID-19 outbreak in January to the height of the pandemic in April. Outside experts have heralded the report as the most comprehensive of its kind at the moment because its research method includes statistics compiled by the International Energy Agency and the US Energy Information Administration. The data relates to energy consumption across the major industrial sectors in every country. The research method also takes account of the potential impact that the various measures for suppressing the outbreak have on activities in different sectors.

All in all, the report forecasts that the decline in CO2 emissions during 2020 could be sufficient to meet the annual target set under the 2016 Paris Agreement. Although this important climate accord was signed by nearly all countries around the world and is regarded a viable framework to head off the catastrophic effects of climate change, its aim of reaching net zero in global CO2 emissions by the middle of the 21st century is also seen as being too idealistic.

Climate scientists have pointed to the report to show that there are enormous challenges to overcome in order to fulfill the promises of the Paris Agreement. Instead of a “forced” reduction on emissions as in the case of the COVID-19 responses, people will have to accept more substantial policies including the adoption of renewable energies and electric vehicles. Emissions will only steadily drop over the long term through systematic changes.

The report states that massive changes have taken place in energy use and CO2 emissions due to travel bans and regional lockdowns, but they will be short-lived as our economic, transportation, and energy systems have not undergone any structural changes that will drive a sustained decline in emissions. The hope is that governments around the world will consider the pace of climate change when devising policies for the post-pandemic recovery. The authors of the report believe that the decisions made by political leaders on this matter will influence the trend of global CO2 emissions for decades to come.

Likewise, climate scientists and environmentalists on the whole are not particularly thrilled about the dramatic reversal of the last few months since this is only the result of governments ordering suspension of normal businesses and confinement of people to their homes. These temporary actions that are mainly to stop the spread of COVID-19 will do very little to check climate change.

The report forecasts a marginal drop in annual total CO2 emissions for 2020, and the actual reduction will depend on how long the various rules pertaining to social distancing will be in effect. A 4% decline is estimated if CO2 emissions return to the pre-crisis level by the middle of June. However, a larger decline of 7% is possible if some restrictive measures remain in force through the entire year as per the recommendation of most public health experts. The latter projection is somewhat similar to the 8% reduction forecasted by the International Energy Agency.

On the other hand, the report also brings up the possibility of further delays on actions to fight climate change as governments choose to sacrifice the environment for the sake of economy recovery. In other words, the pandemic could worsen climate change to a degree not previously anticipated. After all, CO2 emissions did rebound sharply after the global financial crisis of 2007-2008.

Despite the establishment of the Paris Agreement, there has been no real shift in our socioeconomic paradigm. Any positive effects that a deadly outbreak have on the environment tend to be transitory, so different types of pollution will probably make a roaring comeback once the COVID-19 pandemic begins to subside. To achieve the mid-century goal of the Paris Agreement, annual total CO2 emissions have to keep falling by 4-7% every year. This can only be done if countries raise the share of renewables in their energy mixes while scaling back that of fossil fuels. The peer-reviewed report was published in the British journal Nature Climate Change on May 19.

 (News source: TechNews. Photo credit: Owen Byrne via Flickr, CC BY 2.0.)

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