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February 26, 2024
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Global carbon emissions set to drop amidst coronavirus pandemic

Amidst the spread of COVID-19 and people staying at home, climate scientists are noticing a set decrease in global carbon dioxide and other harmful greenhouse gas emissions. 

Since the beginning of lockdowns due to the virus, starting in China, global scientists have begun to notice a decline in carbon dioxide emissions. Global carbon dioxide emissions are still increasing, but with countries enforcing lockdowns and commercial flights and mass travel have slowed down global carbon dioxide emissions could see its largest decrease.

Dolphins have reappeared in Venice canals and blue skies can be seen over Los Angeles as citizens are staying home to help curb the spread of COVID-19. According to NPR, “In China, the first country to lock down, greenhouse gas emissions dropped an estimated 25 percent in February as factories and industrial producers slowed output.” The article also stated that the decrease in carbon dioxide emissions are not large enough to be seen by greenhouse gas observatories, such as the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii. 

Environmental scientist, Rob Jackson from Stanford University stated in an article with NPR, “A month or two of shelter in place will drop carbon dioxide emissions a few percent here or there, but it won’t change the year substantially unless we stay like this for some time.” The last time that US carbon dioxide emissions dropped substantially was during the 2008 financial crisis, and according to the US Energy Information Administration, “US emissions from gas and energy use could drop more than 7 percent this year.” Globally, global emissions could drop by 4 percent. According to United Nations estimates, a 7.6 percent decrease would have to occur in order to curb the worst impacts of a 1.5 degrees Celsius global increase. Scientists say that the best way to reduce emissions is through a switch to renewable energy and not through a global pandemic. Rob Jackson in an NPR article stated, “We don’t want tens of millions of people being out of work as a path to decarbonizing our economy. We need systemic change in our energy infrastructure and new green technologies.”

The globe is still expected to emit tons of harmful greenhouse gas emissions this year even with the drastic estimated decrease. Much of the harmful emissions that are still being emitted are coming from electricity sources that people use to heat their homes and keep lights on. According to Gist, “Utilities, are still generating roughly the same amount of electricity—even if more of it’s going to houses instead of workplaces. Electricity and heating combined account for over 40 percent of global emissions. Many people around the world rely on wood, coal, and natural gas to keep their homes warm and cook their food.” The bulk of electricity in the United States come from coal and natural gas, over 60 percent. With the United Nations estimate of 7.6 percent increase to start to curb the 1.5 degrees Celsius increase, more harmful emissions would need to be decreased the following year. 

Global scientists and the United Nations say that an increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius would be drastic and a systematic change needs to occur in order to reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions. With people staying home and carbon dioxide emissions decreasing due to people staying home shows scientists that a reduction in harmful greenhouse gas emissions is possible.

Sources: https://grist.org/climate/the-world-is-on-lockdown-so-where-are-all-the-carbon-emissions-coming-from/ https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2020/04/14/834295861/carbon-emissions-are-falling-but-still-not-enough-scientists-say https://www.carbonbrief.org/analysis-coronavirus-set-to-cause-largest-ever-annual-fall-in-co2-emissions

About the Contributor
Genevieve Santilli, News Writer