10/25 News Flash 8: The Greener Side of COVID-19: Climate Researchers Report Significant Drop in Global Emissions

Graphic by Ishani Singh.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about significant changes in the way humans live. Across the globe, nations responded to the virus outbreak by closing borders, locking down cities, and limiting non-essential activities and spaces. While vaccine trials are still in progress and hundreds of thousands of new cases are being reported every day, the  encouraging new reports of COVID-19’s impact on global energy consumption give this daunting situation a silver lining. 

On October 14th, an international team of climate researchers reported that pandemic lockdowns led to a decline in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions of about nine percent during the first six months of 2020 compared to the same period in 2019. This reduction  exceeds those of the Great Recession of 2008, the 1979 Oil Crisis, and World War II. 

In regions where coronavirus hot spots persist, such as the Americas and Europe, CO2 emissions remain lower than previous years largely due to a decrease in transportation use. 

However, countries that have returned to pre-pandemic activity, such as China, have observed a rebound in emissions. Because of that, co-author Joachim Schellnhuber argues that a decline in human activities is not the solution to climate stabilization, but rather structural reform of energy production and consumption systems.