The pandemic has caused an 'extreme' drop in global carbon emissions

The worldwide coronavirus pandemic has caused global carbon emissions to drop beyond all expectations.

With millions of people around the world confined to their homes, the environmental impact of cars and planes has been curbed.

According to new research, carbon emissions have fallen by a sixth around the world.

However, the ‘extreme’ reduction in emissions is ‘likely to be temporary’, said Professor of Climate Change Science Corinne Le Quere, of the University of East Anglia.

Daily emissions decreased by 17% – or 17 million tonnes of carbon dioxide – globally during the peak of the confinement measures in early April compared to mean daily levels in 2019, the study indicated.

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The last time emissions were this low was 14 years ago back in 2006.

Emissions from surface transport such as car journeys account for almost half (43%) of the decrease in global emissions during peak confinement on April 7, according to the study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Emissions from industry and from power together account for a further 43% of the decrease in daily global emissions.

Aviation is the economic sector most impacted by the lockdown, but it only accounts for 3% of global emissions, or 10% of the decrease in emissions during the pandemic, researchers said.

The increase in the use of residential buildings from people working at home only marginally offset the drop in emissions from other sectors.

Prof Le Quere, who led the analysis, said: ‘Population confinement has led to drastic changes in energy use and CO2 emissions.

‘These extreme decreases are likely to be temporary though, as they do not reflect structural changes in the economic, transport, or energy systems.

‘The extent to which world leaders consider climate change when planning their economic responses post Covid-19 will influence the global CO2 emissions paths for decades to come.

‘Opportunities exist to make real, durable changes and to be more resilient to future crises, by implementing economic stimulus packages that also help meet climate targets, especially for mobility, which accounts for half the decrease in emissions during confinement.

‘For example, in cities and suburbs, supporting walking and cycling, and the uptake of electric bikes, is far cheaper and better for wellbeing and air quality than building roads, and it preserves social distancing.’

In individual countries, emissions decreased by 26% on average at the peak of their confinement.

Researchers analysed government policies on confinement for 69 countries responsible for 97% of global CO2 emissions.

At the peak of the confinement, regions responsible for 89% of global CO2 emissions were under some level of restriction.

Data on activities indicative of how much each economic sector was affected by the pandemic was then used to estimate the change in fossil CO2 emissions for each day and country from January to April 2020.

The estimated total change in emissions from the pandemic amounts to 1,048 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (MtCO2) until the end of April.

Of this, the changes are largest in China where the confinement started, with a decrease of 242 MtCO2, then in the US (207 MtCO2), Europe (123 MtCO2), and India (98 MtCO2).

The impact of confinement on 2020 annual emissions is projected to be around 4% to 7% compared to 2019, depending on the duration of the lockdown and the extent of the recovery.

Paul Morozzo, senior climate campaigner at Greenpeace UK, said: ‘The only way this reduction will mean anything is if governments lock it in as we recover and rebuild.’

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