An update on COVID-19 impact on Greenhouse Gases emissions

Some positive, albeit fleeting, news coming from the Global Carbon Project[1]. Global fossil CO2 emissions have decreased by around 2.6 Gigatons (Gt) of Carbon Dioxide in 2020 to 34 GtCO2 (7% compared to 2019). According to the same source, this level of reduction of 2.6Gt has never been observed before. Yet, this is almost the level of annual cuts that we need throughout the next decade to comply with the climate ambition of the Paris Agreement (2°C).

Unfortunately, the drop was a result of the measures implemented to slow down the COVID-19 pandemic and not of comprehensive and effective climate action policies. It is unlikely that the need to bring the economy to a stand-still to stop COVID transmission produces any durable changes, as they had little impact on the fossil fuel-based infrastructure that moves our world. In other words, these will not last.

Before COVID, climate policies were estimated to reduce GHG emissions 5% by 2030 compared to business-as-usual. This was equated to an excess of 21.1 Gt of CO2 in the atmosphere by 2030 – almost 10 times the COVID-19 effect!  Predictably, most countries were deemed not on track to meet their commitments made in the Paris Agreement back in 2015.

Pre-COVID strategies were clearly not working. At the end of the day, our carbon-emitting activities must reach a plateau right now and start decreasing to zero in the coming decades. This emissions pause can be used to inform a reorientation of our economic activities. Some of the measures that came out of the need to isolate communities, particularly affecting transportation, received a positive feedback. As the World Bank tells us:

    • The experience of social distancing has highlighted the values people cherish (…) beyond work: the diversity of amenities and restaurants, social networks, sports and culture.
    • (…) redesigning cities to increase green spaces and promote walking and biking, will generate savings, create jobs and yield climate benefits long after the pandemic fades.
    • Remote work, piloted on a massive scale during lockdowns, could create more opportunities for skilled service workers (…).

I would also add other measures such as remote communications for business meetings (even though not so popular right now) and local tourism. They all have had a considerable impact on fossil-fuel usage.

The recovery and resilience plans being drafted at this moment throughout Europe must be used to prevent going back to modest measures and favour investment and reforms towards the green infrastructure we need for a more sustainable development.

[1] A project of Future Earth, a global network of scientists, researchers, and innovators collaborating for a more sustainable planet.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *