New Delhi India Gate war memorial in smog next to a recent photo of it in clean air

Coronavirus causes sharpest drop in carbon output ever

Lockdowns around the world in response to the Covid-19 crisis have caused the biggest drop in carbon output since records began, according to the first study of global carbon output this year.

The study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change showed that daily emissions of the greenhouse fell 17 per cent in early April compared with 2019 levels, and in some countries emissions fell by over a quarter on average. In the UK, emissions were reduced by about 31 per cent. Emissions from aviation declined by 60 per cent, as international flights between many countries were grounded, surface transport fell by about 36 per cent and power generation and industry accounted for about 86 per cent of the total decline in emissions.

Previous data trends have indicated that global carbon emissions have been rising by about one per cent annually, and scientists warn that this drop is both temporary and not necessarily a cause for celebration.

“This is a really big fall, but at the same time, 83 per cent of global emissions are left, which shows how difficult it is to reduce emissions with changes in behaviour,” Corinne Le Quéré, lead author of the study told The Guardian. “And it is not desirable – this is not the way to tackle climate change.”

The unprecedented fall is likely to be only temporary. As countries slowly get back to normal activity the annual decline over the course of the year is likely to be only about seven per cent, if some restrictions to halt the virus . However, if they are lifted in mid-June the fall for the year is likely to be only four per cent. But it would make a negligible impact on the Paris agreement goals, according to Le Quéré.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Emissions must fall to net zero by mid-century or soon after to meet the goals of the Paris agreement and the fall in carbon resulting from the Covid-19 crisis reveals both the potential for change and how far the world still has to go, said Le Quéré.

Just behavioural change is not enough. We need structural changes [to the economy and industry]. But if we take this opportunity to put structural changes in place, we have now seen what it is possible to achieve.

Corinne Le Quéré, lead author
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