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How has the Covid 19 Pandemic generated fluctuations in global CO2 emissions?

By January 21, 2021 No Comments

How has the Covid 19 Pandemic generated fluctuations in global CO2 emissions?

It was a year ago that China had announced that they were dealing with an epidemic of Sars-Cov-2 (Covid19) a new & deadly respiratory disease. In January 2020 we were not quite at pandemic level, but China was already in a lock down. This lock down was extended following what should have been their Chinese New Year celebrations.

All celebrations were cancelled & the news from China suddenly became very real for the rest of the world as Sars-Cov-2 commonly known as Covid19 started to infiltrate across international borders. China closed all of it’s industries (traditional at Chinese New Year) & the country fell very quiet as they dealt with the impact of Covid 19.

As Covid spread & when on the 11th March 2020 the WHO (World Health Organisation) announced that Covid 19 was at Pandemic level; across the world lockdowns were implemented in an attempt to slow, halt & disperse the spread of Covid 19 amongst the worlds nations. A year on & as we all know, Covid 19 is still very much with us & continues to make it’s presence known.

With the pandemic being a very real & tangible issue across the world, Climate Change & the impact of Climate Change seems, on the surface, to have taken a back seat as globally the human race has tried to get Sars-Cov-2 under control. However, what has been very clear, is the impact that Covid 19 has had on the environment & the positive & negative effects it might have on Climate Change.

A Carbon Brief report in May 2020 noted that:

“Emissions in China decreased by 25% in February, and then increased again. The International Energy Agency (IEA) projects an estimated total global reduction in fossil fuel emissions of almost 2.6bn tonnes of CO2 (Gt CO2) over 2020, an 8% reduction, dominated by decreased oil and coal consumption which is expected to peak in the second quarter of the year.” (1)

However, once China moved out of it’s national lockdowns & began their economic re-boot; emissions levels from Industry & in particular construction, soared with air pollution being at pre-lockdown levels.

With CO2 emissions having increased year on year since the 1960’s & while the growth rate in emissions declined from 4.3% per year in the 1960s to 0.9% per year in the 1990s, CO2 emissions levels have then increased the 21st century – to 3.0% per year in the 2000s & 1.2% per year in the 2010s. (2)

Prof Corinne Le Quéré, told journalists that “this year alone will not change anything” in terms of the pace of warming, but economic stimulus packages “will have a massive effect”.

The huge impact of Covid-19 lockdowns means a rebound in global emissions “is very likely”, Le Quéré added, but “what is more difficult to say is exactly what the size of the rebound will be in 2021 – whether it will come back to the 2019 level or perhaps even higher”. (2)

Therefore, what does this look like in percentages & how many Mt of CO2 we have decreased & or increased during the pandemic?

In the first half of 2020, there was a global decrease of 8.8% in Global CO2 emissions (-1551 Mt CO2) compared to the same period in 2019. This represented a larger decrease than during any previous economic downturns & or WW2. (3)

An article published by Natures Communications on 14th October 2020 (3) shows that the mean daily emissions over the period (January–June 2020) were averaging 88.4 Mt CO2 globally per day, 10% lower than the daily average emissions in 2019 (98.2 Mt CO2 per day).

In the first half year of 2020, the most pronounced CO2 emissions decline occurred in U.S. (−338.3 Mt CO2, −13.3%), followed by EU27 & UK (−205.7 Mt CO2, −12.7%), India (−205.2 Mt CO2, −15.4%) and China (−187.2 Mt CO2, −3.7%), with substantial but progressively decreases in Japan (−43.1 Mt CO2, −7.5%), Russia (−40.5 Mt CO2, −5.3%) & Brazil (−25.9 Mt CO2, −12.0%) (3)

Once the initial 2020 lockdowns began to ease across the globe & as nations began to comes to terms with the impact of Covid19; emissions deficits became smaller but still remained significant (U.S.: −26.4% in May and −14.8% in June; EU27 & UK: −21.6% in May and −6.9% in June; India: −27.6% in May and −15.0% in June; Russia: −8.4% in May and −5.1% in June; Brazil: −26.0% in May and −12.6% in June; Japan: −17.2% in May and −7.6% in June). (3)

Global CO2 emissions were most notably lower in April 2020 (−16.9% compared with 2019). However once economic activities fully resumed in China & parts of Europe, emissions began to increase & in June 2020, power sector emissions were only 1.1% lower in 2020 than 2019, compared to being 9.7% lower in April 2020. This coupled with decreases in mobility-related emissions seemed to be more persistent with emissions from ground transportation (data updated to July 31st 2020) being 13.0% lower in July 2020 than in 2019, though monthly decreases in April & May were much larger (−38.6% and −32.6% respectively) but smaller in June 2020 (−15.2%). (3)

These notable decreases in Earth’s CO2 emissions during the first few months of the Covid19 pandemic are certainly a testament to the fact that once humans are restricted in their movement & CO2 producing activities; that emissions can be reduced & in some cases, quite considerably.

Researchers have already estimated that CO2 from fossil fuels & industry (FF&I) – which includes emissions from burning fossil fuels, manufacturing cement & other industrial processes – would have declined by 2.4Gt CO2 compared to 2019 an equivalent to a drop of 7% in global emissions. (1)

With international pressure resuming on Governments to continue their reductions of CO2 emissions & countries such as China pledging to be Carbon Neutral by 2060, Europe & the UK Net Zero by 2030 & Joe Biden, the new American President, assembling the largest Climate Change team ever in US history & re-joining the Paris Agreement; these ambitious pledges & targets give a hopeful vision of a future where it doesn’t take a pandemic to reduce emissions, but human endeavour & perseverance.

Written by Katy-Jane Mason for & on behalf of Dolphin N2.

  3. Liu, Z., Ciais, P., Deng, Z. et al.Near-real-time monitoring of global CO2 emissions reveals the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nat Commun 11, 5172 (2020).