Dec 11, 2020 - Energy & Environment

Putting the pandemic year's record emissions drop into context

Reproduced from Global Carbon Budget 2020; Chart: Axios Visuals
Reproduced from Global Carbon Budget 2020; Chart: Axios Visuals

Newly published research shows that global CO2 emissions dropped an estimated 7% this year as the pandemic curtailed travel and economic activity.

Why it matters: It's a record decline, according to the Global Carbon Project research consortium, with transportation-related emissions accounting for the largest share of the drop.

Yes, but: It's what comes next that's really on the minds of the analysts. They say that emissions are heading for a rebound in 2021, though it's not clear how large it will be. The rebound is already happening even as COVID-19 cases are at record levels.

  • “Much of the world is now experiencing a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, but daily emissions have not dropped nearly as much in the second wave as during the first wave," said Glen Peters of Norway's CICERO Center for International Climate Research.
  • Peters, a co-author of the annual analysis, said current emissions are now close to 2019 levels.

The big picture: Tragic pandemics are not a climate policy, and getting on track to meet the Paris Agreement's goals would require major emissions cuts every year. So researchers are watching how countries’ economic responses to the pandemic will affect emissions going forward.

  • "Government actions to stimulate the economy at the end of the COVID-19 pandemic can ... help lower emissions and tackle climate change," says researcher Corinne Le Quéré of the University of East Anglia.
  • “Incentives that help accelerate the deployment of electric cars and renewable energy and support walking and cycling in cities are particularly timely given the extensive disturbance observed in the transport sector this year," she adds.

Go deeper: World carbon dioxide emissions drop 7% in pandemic-hit 2020 (AP)

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