Carbon emissions are falling sharply due to coronavirus. But not for long.

Carbon emissions are falling sharply due to coronavirus. But not for long.

3 April 2020 — CO2 emissions are crashing as the world winds down, but experts say the drop won’t last if governments don’t start moving to cleaner energy.

It is becoming clearer every day that the scale of the societal disruption caused by the coronavirus is impacting fossil fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions. If preliminary data from some of the world’s biggest economies is any indicator, emissions are in for a sharp, if temporary, decline.

In China, carbon emissions were down an estimated 18 percent (Note 1) between early February and mid-March due to falls in coal consumption and industrial output. That slowdown caused the world’s largest emitter to avoid some 250 million metric tons of carbon pollution. But it could be a short-term blip, as emissions are already rebounding as the country restarts its factories (Note 2). With the nation in lockdown, workers couldn’t get to factories and demand for energy, along with materials like steel and cement, remained low.

Strong governmental support is needed to put clean energy at the heart of stimulus plans to counter the coronavirus crisis.

In order for the world to meet its climate targets, something that needs to happen immediately: see global CO2 emissions in 2019 (Note 3).

As China’s economy continues its bumpy ascent, the economies of the U.S. and the EU, the world’s second and third largest (Note 4) carbon emitters, are tanking. Early data suggest major declines in power consumption and transit-related emissions as governments order people to stay home from work and non-essential industries to go into hibernation.

Because transportation is the single biggest source (Note 5) of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., and because passenger vehicles account for about 60 percent (Note 6) of these emissions, the short-term effect on the nation’s carbon footprint could be significant.

Long-term uncertainty

Taken together, the data suggest that the unprecedented global disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic is likely causing a sharp, brief drop in carbon emissions across some of the world’s largest economies. While it’s difficult to say how soon those economies will rebound —it will depend, first and foremost, on the effectiveness of nations’ COVID-19 responses—on a global scale, the pandemic may have already left its mark on 2020’s carbon bill.

As many experts (Note 7) have noted in recent weeks, strong governmental support for clean energy—through, say, renewable power and electric vehicle tax credits, investments in low-carbon infrastructure, and building efficiency—could tilt economies in a Greener, more climate-friendly direction in the wake of the pandemic. And societal shifts that have occurred as a result of coronavirus lockdowns, like widespread telecommuting and holding conferences virtually, could give the world a little extra momentum.

“We have an opportunity to put, at the heart of stimulus packages, measures to speed up clean energy transitions and to boost energy resilience, so countries and industries come out of this crisis in a better position than they were before,” says Faith Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency.

This is an excerpt as published on the online platform of the National Geographic.

For more information on food supply and distribution as well as urban farming topics, check out the articles in FuturArc’s Food issue.


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