Dec 11, 2020 - Energy & Environment

Global carbon dioxide emissions fell by 7% in 2020

Water vapor from the cooling towers of a power plant in Brandenburg, Germany, in November 2020.
Water vapor from the cooling towers of a power plant in Brandenburg, Germany, in November 2020. Photo: Patrick Pleul/picture alliance via Getty Images

Global carbon dioxide emissions fell by an estimated 7% in 2020, according to a study by the Global Carbon Project published in the journal Earth System Science Data on Thursday.

Why it matters: It's likely the largest fall in carbon emission ever recorded and is largely the result of the coronavirus pandemic keeping people at home.

By the numbers: The report estimates that the world will have emitted 37 billion U.S. tons (34 billion metric tons) of carbon dioxide this year, down from 40.1 billion U.S. tons (36.4 billion metric tons) in 2019.

  • Emissions dropped 12% in the U.S.; 11% in Europe; 9% in India and 1.7% in China.

What they're saying: "The restrictions implemented in response to COVID-19 led to dramatic and unprecedented changes in society, and this caused large changes in CO2 emissions. All countries had significant deviations from their previous emission trends," authors of the study wrote.

Yes, but: Emissions are expected to tick back up after the pandemic as people resume daily commutes and travel.

  • An analysis from the firm Energy Innovation published this May found that the steep U.S. greenhouse gas emissions decline stemming from the pandemic will have little effect on long-term trends under current policies.
Go deeper