Positive news of 2020: Global greenhouse emissions drop drastically, thanks to the pandemic

By Rahul Vaimal, Associate Editor
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According to a new research from Europe’s University of East Anglia, University of Exeter and the Global Carbon Project, the global greenhouse gas emissions has dropped by approximately 2.4 billion tons this year.

This marks a 7 percent decrease from 2019 and the largest fall on record, thanks to the COVID-19 restrictions worldwide.

Researchers said carbon emissions are likely to rebound in 2021 and urged policymakers to prioritize a shift to clean energy and policies that address climate change in their economic recovery strategies.

According to the report published in the journal Earth System Science Data, daily global carbon emissions fell by 17 percent during the peak of pandemic lockdowns which was in April, but have since increased and approached 2019 levels again.

“All elements are not yet in place for sustained decreases in global emission, and emissions are slowly edging back to 2019 levels,” Corinne Le Quere, an environmental expert said. “Government actions to stimulate the economy at the end of the COVID-19 pandemic can also help lower emissions and tackle climate change.”

Country-wise data

The US recorded the highest reduction in carbon emissions, 12 percent, followed by the European Union at 11 percent, the study found. In both regions, the pandemic restrictions accelerated reductions in the usage of coal in the production of electricity and oil in transportation.

India saw carbon emissions decline 9 percent, but China had a decrease of just 1.7 percent. Lockdown measures by China occurred earlier in the year and were shorter in duration.

COVID-19 driven restrictions

The global decrease in carbon emissions has been driven by a decline in transport activity. According to the study, emissions from automobiles and air travel fell by about half during the peak of COVID-19 restrictions in April and declined by about 10 percent and 40 percent by December, respectively, from 2019 levels.

“Incentives that help accelerate the deployment of electric cars and renewable energy and support walking and cycling in cities are particularly timely given the extensive disturbance observed in the transport sector this year,” Ms. Le Quere said.

Long way to go

The historic drop in global emissions has also had a negligible effect on carbon concentrations in the atmosphere, which are heating up the Earth and worsening climate disasters, ice melt and sea-level rise. In 2020 alone, there have been numerous disastrous events due to climate change across the globe.

“The climate system is driven by the total amount of CO2 put in the atmosphere over centuries,” said Glen Peters, a research director of the International Climate Research in Norway and a member of the Global Carbon Project.

“Even though emissions fell in 2020, they were still around the same levels as in 2012, and the drop is insignificant in comparison with the total amount of CO2 emitted over the past centuries,” he said.

While global carbon emissions have risen steadily over the last decades, researchers said that emissions growth has started to increase more slowly in recent years, largely due to changes in the production of coal. “Global warming stops when emissions get to around zero, and Covid-19 has not changed that,” Mr. Peters said.