Lockdown sees global emissions fall by 17%

New research has suggested that daily global carbon emissions recorded in April 2020 were 17% lower compared to the same month last year, largely due to the coronavirus pandemic and forced lockdowns and postponement in production.

Lockdown sees global emissions fall by 17%

The empty streets of Paris as a result of the lockdown

New research published today (19 May) in the journal Nature Climate Change has revealed that daily recordings of carbon emissions across the globe were 17% lower compared to April 2019. The study, led by Professor Corinne Le Quéré of the University of East Anglia, is the latest document to outline the carbon savings recorded as a result of the social lockdown and economic shutdown of Covid-19.

The research notes that annual emissions could fall by 7% if lockdown restrictions remain in place. But with nations already kickstarting the reopening of certain parts of the economy, and the UK on course to life more lockdown measures in June, the researchers claim that the annual decline in emissions would reach 4%. In contrast, emissions had been rising by around 1% in previous years. 

Some countries, such as China, have recorded emissions reductions of around 25%. The research notes that the decline in the UK reached around 31% for the month of April

Reacting to the news, Friends of the Earth campaigner Jenny Bates said: “This huge drop in carbon emissions is due to the global lockdown, but as the world emerges from this terrible pandemic avoiding catastrophic climate change must be at the top of the agenda. We must make sure that our recent experience of better air quality, lower carbon emissions and simple things like hearing birdsong are prioritised post-lockdown by building the next normal around active travel, access to nature, and ending our reliance on fossil fuels.”

The study was published as politicians prepare to outline economy recovery packages to respond to the economic damage caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The EU Recovery Plan is set to be detailed this week, while new stimulus packages from the US India and the G7 Heads of State summit are expected over the next few weeks.

Already, businesses, NGOs and academics have called for a green recovery that would allow for reduced emissions alongside economic growth.

One of the major question marks of a post-pandemic recovery is whether fossil fuels will be locked into the global economy, or if measures can be implemented to incentivise carbon-intensive industries to decarbonise.

Global carbon emissions from the fossil fuel industry are projected to fall by a record 2.5 billion tonnes in 2020, equating to a 5% reduction. Bailout packages for the industry have already been discussed in the US, and similar bailouts are being prepared for the aviation industry.

Friends of the Earth has called for transport and aviation policy to be aligned to the UK’s net-zero commitment, claiming that planned – albeit contested – airport expansions, and the £27bn in funding set aside for new roads, should be spent on “creating the sustainable and modern transport system we urgently need”.

Annual emission falls

The IEA’s annual Global Energy Review 2020 report was released last month, revealing that global emissions are projected to fall by 8% this year, as a result of the shutdown caused by the pandemic. The IEA notes that it would be the largest decrease in emissions every recorded and would be six times larger than the previous record drop recorded in the aftermath of the 2009 financial crash.

Based on analysis of more than 100 days of real data so far this year and the assumption that lockdowns will ease gradually and economic productivity improves over time, the report claims the global electricity demand is set to fall by 5% in 2020, the largest decline since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Renewables are set to be the only energy source that will grow in 2020, the IEA notes, claiming that flexible access to grids and low operating costs will be attractive proposals. In fact, solar PV and wind energy – already the cheapest energy source for two-thirds of the global population – will help boost renewable electricity generation by 5% in 2020.

Analysis from the UN Environment Programme estimates that global emissions would need to fall by 7.6% every year this decade, in order to put the planet on the 1.5C trajectory.

Matt Mace

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