Global fossil fuel combustion emissions fell a record 7% this year due to blockages and travel restrictions, according to an analysis by an international consortium of researchers released yesterday.
Total emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) from industry, power generation and transport fell 2.4 billion tons to 34 billion tons, a fall well above the reduction caused by the global financial crisis about a decade.
But while the fall may be an unwanted “advance” of the pandemic, it will have little impact in slowing the pace of climate change. The CO2 emissions produced this year, approximately the same level as in 2012, are still much higher than what the world’s forests, oceans or soils can absorb, which means that CO2 levels in the world are expected to atmosphere continue to rise.
“We’ve never seen anything like this fall,” said Dr. Pep Canadell, executive director of the Global Carbon Project, which conducted the analysis of the Carbon 2020 Budget, an annual snapshot of global CO2 emissions.
This year’s emission reductions were most pronounced in the United States (12%) and the European Union (11%).
But in China, it was estimated that emissions would drop by just 1.7% because the country’s intense blockades ended soon and the economy has had more time to recover than most other countries.
By sectors, surface transport emissions, such as cars, trucks and buses, accounted for the largest share of the global decline, which fell by about half to the peak of the first Covid-19 wave in April.
Industry emissions (22% of total global emissions) fell 30% in some countries with the strongest blockade measures.
Emissions from energy production (44 percent of global emissions) were reduced by up to 15 percent in countries in the midst of a lockout period.
Aviation has been one of the sectors most affected and emissions have fallen by around 75% in some countries. But that only had a small effect because aviation accounts for only 2.8 percent of global emissions.
The conclusions come a day before a major summit of world leaders on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the Paris Climate Agreement 2015. The aim of the summit is to intensify efforts to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions greenhouse through deeper promises of carbon reduction, more ecological investment and better protection of nature, including forests.
The record drop in CO2 emissions also raises the question of what will happen once the pandemic is reduced.
During the financial crisis, emissions fell by around 1.5% in 2009, but then rose by 5% in 2010, fueled by a flood of stimulus money.
It is unclear if this will happen this time, Dr. Canadell said.
He noted two major changes since the last crisis. First, large amounts of spending on ecological stimuli promised by the EU, US President-elect Joe Biden, Japan, South Korea and others could help accelerate the shift to fossil fuels. This level of funding for green economies and occupations had never been offered before, he said.
Second, the recent promises of carbon neutrality from China, Japan and South Korea, which joined the EU as a commitment that their economies would achieve net carbon emissions by the middle of the century.
“What I see is an opportunity,” Dr. Canadell said. “Conditions have been favorable so we can decide to do something about climate change.”