how much have CO2 emissions dropped due to COVID-19?

Jul 23, 2020

Coronavirus is set to cause the largest ever annual fall in CO2 emissions. With the world being put on pause through international lockdowns, we have seen a reduction in electricity use, transport demand and a general cut in industrial activity. Recent Carbon Brief analysis of this changed behaviour suggests the pandemic could cause global emission cuts this year in the region of 2 billion tonnes of CO2. This is approximately a 5% reduction on the global 2019 annual CO2 emissions. 

If these predictions are correct this would mean 2020 would see the largest ever annual fall in CO2 emissions, more than during any previous economic crisis or period of war.

While this data suggests that the reduced environmental impact could be one of the few positive outcomes of the global pandemic, it is still sadly not worth celebrating just yet. 

This is partly because of the lack of accuracy in these data predictions due to a long list of factors such as timely data being made available in different countries, the continuous changing nature of the Coronavirus, and the huge uncertainty over the direction and duration of the crisis. This means it could be some time before we know the true environmental impact of the pandemic. 

will emission levels return to normal?

We are already beginning to see patterns of emissions rebounding in countries like China, who are now in better control of the virus, as they reopen their factories. 

It is hard to see this pattern not being reflected in other countries as things begin to return to a new normal, meaning little will have changed in the structure of the global economy – and that progress towards net-zero carbon emissions will likely be as slow as it was prior to Coronavirus. 

are we doing enough?

Most importantly to note is that even with a short term drop of 5% in emissions this year, it is still not enough. Experts are calling on an annual fall in emissions of 7.6% every year this decade to begin to offset the damage already done to the planet.