Global emissions plunge as working-from-home slashes transport emissions

Pablo Tucker
May 21, 2020

The lower levels of carbon emissions were only marginally offset by an increase in energy use that resulted from millions of people working from home.

(The study estimates that by the end of the year emissions could decline anywhere between 2 to 13 percent overall, depending on the nature and duration of governments' lockdown policies.) During the peak of global lockdowns in early April, average daily emissions decreased by 17 percent compared to the 2019 average, hitting their lowest point since 2006.

The findings are broadly in line with analysis from the International Energy Agency (IEA) last month, which predicted an 8% decline in annual emissions.

They say emissions from surface transport, such as auto journeys, accounted for nearly half of the decrease in global emissions during peak confinement on April 7.

More significantly, restrictions on the movement of people within major cities have achieved a dramatic reduction in the number of people commuting to work, have seen cuts in transport emissions emerge as the largest contributor to global emissions falls seen throughout April.

In their study of carbon dioxide emissions during the pandemic, an worldwide team of scientists calculated that pollution levels were heading back up and, for the year, would end up between four and seven percent lower than 2019 levels. On a national level, emissions decreased by about a quarter on average during each country's peak of confinement.

"Opportunities exist to make real, durable, changes and be more resilient to future crises, by implementing economic stimulus packages that also help meet climate targets, especially for mobility, which accounts for half the decrease in emissions during confinement", Le Quéré added.

"Population confinement has led to drastic changes in energy use and Carbon dioxide emissions".

Corinne Le Quere, professor of the University of East Anglia and one of the report's co-authors, says, "The extent to which world leaders consider the net-zero emissions targets and the imperatives of climate change when planning their economic responses to COVID-19 is likely to influence the pathway of Carbon dioxide emissions for decades to come".

Furthermore, most changes observed in 2020 are likely to be temporary, as they do not reflect structural changes in the economic, transport or energy systems, the study added.

A United Nations report last year said emissions needed to drop by 7.6 per cent a year to keep the temperature rise to below 1.5C.

"But the decrease in emissions this year will not do much to impact climate change, as it is extremely small compared to the emissions accumulated so far, and compared to the emissions cuts needed to tackle climate change", the study said. "We need systemic change through green energy and electric cars, not temporary reductions from enforced behaviour".

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