How has staying home affected global carbon dioxide emissions?
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed every facet of our lives, notably how much we travel, how much we produce, and how much we buy. This has not only impacted us personally, but has affected industries as well, leading to less output from a number of different kinds of companies.
According to a 2017 report from The Carbon Majors Database, just 100 companies are responsible for 71% of total worldwide greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions—gases that capture atmospheric heat. As these companies and other smaller ones are doing less business and slowing production due to COVID-19, GHG emissions have dropped as well, specifically emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), a leading greenhouse gas. In addition, due to lockdown and quarantine measures, people are traveling less by car, bus, train, and airplane, lowering the carbon dioxide emissions from these methods of transportation.
In 2018, CO2 represented 81% of GHGs released. GHGs such as CO2 are the main drivers of climate change, and since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, humans have increased the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere by more than a third. This has been due to increased production, transportation, and mechanization, which have all slowed down since the beginning of the lockdown.
In order to understand and evaluate how stay-at-home orders around the world have impacted CO2 emissions, Stacker has consulted a paper by Corinne Le Quéré et al., published in Nature on May 19. The paper estimated the drops in emission levels in different countries caused by six main economic sectors based on emissions levels in the previous year and sector productivity in the first four months of 2020. These six economic sectors are power, industry, surface transport, public buildings and commerce, residential, and aviation. Stacker also consulted other public health sources, including a May 22 working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research on COVID-19 stay-at-home policies and reduced emissions.
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Global CO2 emissions decreased 17% from April 2019 to April 2020
In order to prevent further spread of COVID-19, governments around the world closed borders and confined people to their homes. These measures reduced transportation and changed energy consumption habits. Le Quéré et al. found that global CO2 emissions decreased by 17% from April 2019 to April 2020.
COVID-19 projected to decrease overall 2020 emissions by 4–7%
As of May 28, some countries have started to ease their restrictions, while others are still in lockdown. What happens with the spread and intensity of the coronavirus in the coming months will help determine how governments and the public choose to act. The team behind the Nature paper estimates that overall 2020 emissions will be around 4% lower if pre-pandemic conditions return by June 2020 and around 7% lower if some restrictions remain worldwide until the end of the year.
CO2 emissions were lowest on April 7 of any day so far in 2020
About 46M metric tons less CO2 emitted per month
A working paper done in collaboration between university scientists and the National Bureau of Economic Research found that around 46 million metric tons less of CO2 were emitted per month, a 19% decline. This reduction is attributed to social distancing.
Overall emissions in the US dropped by 32%
While the first cases of COVID-19 in the United States go as far back as January 2020, it was on March 11 when President Donald Trump addressed the nation about the pandemic and shut down a significant amount of international travel. Soon after, states began to order lockdowns. Overall, the United States has experienced an overall emissions drop of 32% this year due in large part to these shutdowns and travel stoppages.
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Overall emissions in China dropped by 24%
China was the first country to experience the novel coronavirus; although at first the government tried to cover up the problem, eventually it shut down much of the country surrounding Wuhan, the worst-hit area. Since the beginning of 2020, the country’s overall emissions have dropped by 24%. The country has already begun reopening.
Overall emissions in China's Hubei province dropped by 27%
China’s Hubei province is home to the city of Wuhan, where the COVID-19 outbreak is believed to have started. It experienced the earliest and most restrictive lockdown in the country. Reduced movement, consumption, and manufacturing caused the province to experience a drop in CO2 emissions of 27%.
Overall emissions in Italy dropped by 28%
Italy was the first European country to experience a surge in COVID-19 cases, leading the country to begin quarantining different areas in February 2020. The majority of the country’s cases were in the north, where much of the nation’s business and manufacturing takes place. Eventually, all nonessential production was shut down along with travel and all other businesses, and emissions in the country dropped by 28% between January and April.
California saw the biggest drop in emissions of any US state
California’s CO2 emissions dropped by 41.8%—more than any other state in the United States—with 50% of this reduction coming from transportation and 19% from industry. California was the first state to enact sweeping lockdowns.
Overall emissions in New York state dropped by 33%
New York saw its emissions go down by 33%, with 41% of this reduction coming from transportation and 20% from residential reductions. New York state has been the hardest hit in terms of coronavirus cases and deaths, and New York City’s economy will remain closed until at least mid-June.
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