Science

Carbon emissions down by 2.4 billion tonnes due to Covid-induced lockdowns

Mumbai | Updated on December 11, 2020 Published on December 11, 2020

Emissions from transport account for the largest share of the global decrease

The coronavirus-induced lockdowns have resulted in a record drop in carbon emission rate by a whopping 2.4 billion tonnes, as per researchers at the University of East Anglia (UEA), the University of Exeter, and the Global Carbon Project.

According to their analysis, the decline is relatively larger than previous significant decreases — 0.5 (in 1981 and 2009), 0.7 (1992), and 0.9 (1945) billion tonnes of CO2 (GtCO2). It means that in 2020 fossil CO2 emissions are predicted to be approximately 34 GtCO2, 7 per cent lower than in 2019.

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Emissions from transport account for the largest share of the global decrease. Those from surface transport, such as car journeys, fell by approximately half at the peak of the Covid lockdowns, the study noted.

By December 2020, emissions from road transport and aviation were still below their 2019 levels, by approximately 10 per cent and 40 per cent, respectively, due to prolonged restrictions.

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Total CO2 emissions from human activities — from fossil CO2 and land-use change — are set to be around 39 GtCO2 in 2020.

The researchers further cautioned that it is too early to say how much emissions will rebound in 2021 and further.

Analyst Prof Corinne Le Quéré, Royal Society Research Professor at UEA’s School of Environmental Sciences, said: “All elements are not yet in place for sustained decreases in global emission, and emissions are slowly edging back to 2019 levels. Government actions to stimulate the economy at the end of the Covid-19 pandemic can also help lower emissions and tackle climate change.”

"Incentives that help accelerate the deployment of electric cars and renewable energy and support walking and cycling in cities are particularly timely, given the extensive disturbance observed in the transport sector this year,” she added.

No room for complacency

The emissions decrease appears more pronounced in the US (-12 per cent) and EU27 countries (-11 per cent), where Covid-19 restrictions accelerated previous reductions in emissions from coal use.

It appears least pronounced in China (-1.7 per cent), where the effect of Covid-19 restrictions on emissions occurred on top of rising emissions. In India, fossil CO2 emissions are projected to decrease by about 9 per cent.

For the rest of the world, the effect of Covid-19 restrictions occurred on top of rising emissions, with emissions this year projected to decrease by about 7 per cent.

However, despite lower emissions in 2020, the level of CO2 in the atmosphere continues to grow — by about 2.5 parts per million (ppm) in 2020 — and is projected to reach 412 ppm averaged over the year, 48 per cent above pre-industrial levels.

Lead researcher Prof Pierre Friedlingstein, of the University of Exeter, said: “Although global emissions were not as high as last year, they still amounted to about 39 billion tonnes of CO2, and inevitably led to a further increase in CO2 in the atmosphere. The atmospheric CO2 level, and consequently the world’s climate, will only stabilise when global CO2 emissions are near zero."

Deforestation fires were lower this year compared to 2019 levels. In 2019 deforestation and degradation fires were about 30 per cent above the previous decade.

Land and ocean carbon sinks continue to increase in line with emissions, absorbing about 54 per cent of the total human-induced emissions.

The findings of the Global Carbon Budget 2020 analysis were published in the journal Earth System Science Data.

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Published on December 11, 2020
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