CO2 Emissions Decrease Around the World During Pandemic

by Devyn Giannetti , Communications Specialist, Communications Department

Cars commuting on the highwayOhio’s Stay at Home Order a few months ago caused us to do just that—stay at home. Many of us worked from home, ordered groceries online and fell in love with a new television show from the comfort of our couch (Tiger King, anyone?).

But many of us did not think about what our staying inside and limiting travel meant for mother nature. It turns out it meant a lot.

Researchers from the University of East Anglia School of Environmental Sciences and Stanford University’s Earth System Science Department released a study showing the impact that confinement had on CO2 emissions across the world.

Here is how the scale was broken down:

  • Scale 0: no measures were in place
  • Scale 1: policies targeted at small groups of individuals suspected of carrying infection,
  • Scale 2: policies targeted at entire cities or regions or that affect about 50 percent of society
  • Scale 3: national policies that substantially restrict the daily routine of all but key workers

At the COVID-19 peak in early April, 89 percent of global emissions were in areas under some confinement.

The six economic sectors covered in the analysis are power, industry, surface transport, public buildings and commerce, residential, and aviation.

Each sector at a Scale 3 saw a decrease in activity. Here are the highlights:

  • Aviation: a decrease in daily activity of 75 percent.
  • Surface transport: reduction of 50 percent.
  • Industry and public sectors: reduction of 35 percent and 33 percent, respectively.
  • Power: decrease by 15 percent.
  • Residential sector: increased by 5 percent.

So what does this all mean?

The effect of the confinement was to decrease the daily global CO2 emissions by an average of 17 percent by April 7, 2020, relative to the mean level of emissions in 2019, and comparable to emissions levels in 2006.

In addition, global emissions from surface transport fell 36 percent and made the largest contribution to the total emissions change. 

The study goes into much more detail on the decrease in CO2 emissions and its impact on the world which can be read at Nature Climate Change. While COVID-19 has been difficult and impacted all of us, our planet was able to reap some benefits of people staying indoors.