What’s Going On Here?
The first four months of 2020 have seen global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions fall to levels not observed since 2006, representing the largest reduction in CO2 since records began.
What Does This Mean?
The new study, published in Nature Climate Change, found that daily CO2 emissions decreased by 17% relative to 2019 daily levels. Government policies introduced in response to the COVID-19 pandemic have significantly influenced energy demand across the world, through the shutting down of international borders and lockdown measures keeping people inside their homes.
At the height of the global lock down, daily CO2 emissions fell by around 26% on average. Some countries experienced greater reductions, with the UK’s emissions decreasing by as much as 31%!
Why Should We Care?
Whilst this historic drop in carbon is a positive sign, we are by no means out of the woods. Despite much of the world coming to an almost complete halt, with aviation travel down 60%, more people working from home, the fact is that 83% of global carbon emissions still remain. This massively highlights the limitations of large-scale behaviour change in drastically altering global carbon emissions.
There are also serious concerns being raised about the possible resurgence in car use as people start to return to work, as one of the main reasons for the fall in CO2 is declining car use, with surface transport emissions down by 43%. People are now being encouraged to drive to work rather than use public transport, so as to adhere to the social distancing guidelines still present in most countries.
However, as part of a green recovery from COVID-19, we must lock in the positive behaviour changes that have been observed, for example through designating road space in cities to active transport.
For an insight on the implications of the COVID-19 crisis on climate policy, check out this talk hosted by the Oxford Climate Society.