NEWS October 14, 2020: Peter Fairley of Grist reports on drop in GHG emissions due to COVID-​​19

The world has been trans­formed by the ongo­ing COVID-​​19 pan­demic, and its impact on global CO2 emis­sions is unprece­dented. Accord­ing to a study led by the Pots­dam Insti­tute for Cli­mate Impact Research, the drop in emis­sions dur­ing the first half of 2020 is larger than what was seen dur­ing the finan­cial cri­sis of 2008, the oil cri­sis in 1979, or even dur­ing World War II.

The researchers deter­mined that from Jan­u­ary to June, CO2 emis­sions were 8.8 per­cent lower com­pared to the same time period in 2019, with an over­all decrease of 1,551 mil­lion tons.

The study is pro­vid­ing a much more clear under­stand­ing of how COVID-​​19 has affected global energy con­sump­tion com­pared to pre­vi­ous reports. The experts also high­light fun­da­men­tal steps that could be taken to sta­bi­lize the cli­mate after the pandemic.

Study lead author Zhu Liu is a researcher in the Depart­ment of Earth Sys­tem Sci­ence at Tsinghua Uni­ver­sity in Bei­jing.

What makes our study unique is the analy­sis of metic­u­lously col­lected near-​​real-​​time data. By look­ing at the daily fig­ures com­piled by the Car­bon Mon­i­tor research ini­tia­tive we were able to get a much faster and more accu­rate overview, includ­ing time­lines that show how emis­sions decreases have cor­re­sponded to lock­down mea­sures in each coun­try,” explained Liu.

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 %. 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.”

The analy­sis reveals which sec­tors of the global econ­omy have been hit the hard­est by the pan­demic. Study co-​​author Daniel Kam­men is a pro­fes­sor in the Energy and Resources Group and the Gold­man School of Pub­lic Pol­icy at UC Berkeley.

The great­est reduc­tion of emis­sions was observed in the ground trans­porta­tion sec­tor,” said Pro­fes­sor Kam­men. “Largely because of work­ing from home restric­tions, trans­port CO2 emis­sions decreased by 40 % world­wide. In con­trast, the power and indus­try sec­tors con­tributed less to the decline, with –22 % and –17 %, respec­tively, as did the avi­a­tion and ship­ping sec­tors.” “Sur­pris­ingly, even the res­i­den­tial sec­tor saw a small emis­sions drop of 3 %: largely because of an abnor­mally warm win­ter in the north­ern hemi­sphere, heat­ing energy con­sump­tion decreased with most peo­ple stay­ing at home all day dur­ing lock­down periods.”

The com­pre­hen­sive research was focused on a wide range of data, includ­ing hourly datasets of elec­tric­ity power pro­duc­tion in 31 coun­tries, daily vehi­cle traf­fic in more than 400 cities, daily pas­sen­ger flights, and monthly pro­duc­tion rates for indus­try in 62 countries.

The experts also found that, with the excep­tion of the trans­porta­tion indus­try, most economies resumed their usual lev­els of CO2 emis­sions by July after lock­down mea­sures were lifted.

Even if emis­sions remained low, how­ever, those improve­ments would do lit­tle to off­set the harm­ful lev­els of CO2 that have accu­mu­lated in the atmos­phere in the long term. With this in mind, the researchers empha­size that the only valid strat­egy to sta­bi­lize the cli­mate is a com­plete over­haul of the indus­try and com­merce sector.

Study co-​​author Hans Joachim Schellnhu­ber is the found­ing direc­tor of the Pots­dam Insti­tute for Cli­mate Impact Research.

While the CO2 drop is unprece­dented, decreases of human activ­i­ties can­not be the answer,” said Schellnhu­ber. “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.”

Screen Shot 2020-10-28 at 12.51.25 PM

The study is pub­lished in the jour­nal Nature Com­mu­ni­ca­tions and can be accessed here.

Browse Uncategorized

Main Menu

Energy & Resources Group
310 Barrows Hall
University of California
Berkeley, CA 94720-3050
Phone: (510) 642-1640
Fax: (510) 642-1085


  • Open the Main Menu
  • People at RAEL

  • Open the Main Menu