The early months of the COVID-19 pandemic saw many human activities reduced to a fraction of what they were previously. Notably, air pollution in major cities was dramatically lower than it had been in decades. Now, a new study has looked at the effect of the pandemic shutdowns on carbon dioxide emissions.
An international team of climate scientists has published an assessment of carbon dioxide emissions by industry, transportation, and other sectors from January through June. According to their measurements, this year’s pandemic lockdowns resulted in a 9% decline in emissions from 2019 levels.
An earlier study reported a 17% drop in CO2 emissions, but the new study was more comprehensive and detailed.
The new data includes estimates of day-by-day, sector-specific and country-level differences in CO2 emissions derived from frequently updated data sources, some of which are nearly in real-time. It tracks the effects of COVID-19-related disruptions of human activities in China starting in February and in the United States and Europe in March through May.
The data revealed the resumption of emissions in many regions, such as in China, where they are now back to pre-pandemic levels. Emissions in the Americas and Europe have been slower to recover, especially in the US, where COVID-19 hotspots are continuing to emerge.
The reduction in carbon emissions has been due mostly to transportation with fewer people driving to work and traveling by air. Even by June, when lockdowns were easing, global emissions were still significantly reduced. In any case, a pandemic is a highly undesirable and unwelcome way to reduce carbon emissions, but the data from this year does show that it is effective.
Pandemic lockdowns caused steep and lasting carbon dioxide decline
Photo, posted August 7, 2020, courtesy of Michael Mueller via Flickr.
Earth Wise is a production of WAMC Northeast Public Radio.