Daily global greenhouse gas emissions declined 17 percent by early April compared to 2019 levels due to coronavirus-related shutdowns around the world, according to new research published in the journal Nature Climate Change. Daily emissions from cars and trucks fell 36 percent, and aviation emissions declined by 60 percent.
If nations start to reopen and experience pre-crisis levels of activity by mid-June, total annual CO2 emissions may likely decline 4 percent by the end of the year. If restrictions continue until the end of 2020, total global emissions could decline by 7 percent.
The study, led by a team of scientists in Europe and the United States, analyzed emissions estimates for three levels of coronavirus shutdowns and across six sectors of the economy. The researchers examined trends in 69 countries, 50 U.S. states, and 30 Chinese provinces, representing 85 percent of the world’s population and 97 percent of global CO2 emissions.
Since January, emissions from industry declined 19 percent, the power sector 7 percent, and public buildings and commerce 21 percent, compared to last year. The only sector that saw an increase in emissions was home energy use, with a 3 percent uptick.
The findings, the scientists argue, represent just a short-lived decline in emissions—as economies open back up, greenhouse gases will undoubtedly rise to, or near, their pre-Covid-19 levels. The research also demonstrates how “behavior change alone is not going to do it,” in terms of fighting climate change, Corinne Le Quéré, lead author of the study and director of Britain’s Tyndall Center for Climate Change Research, told The Washington Post. Despite billions of people staying home, companies shuttered, planes grounded, and cars off the roads, nations around the globe continued to pump 80 percent of their usual greenhouse gases into the air in the first quarter of this year.
“There’s a lot of inertia in the infrastructure, in the built environment,” Le Quéré said. “Where they put… stimulus [funds] is really critical… It’s 2020, and there’s not much time to tackle climate change.”