Global greenhouse gas emissions have fallen by a record amount due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to a study published in scientific journal PLOS ONE.
The decline in economic activity and global travel has reduced emissions by 2.5 gigatonnes of CO2e (a measurement that converts all greenhouse emissions in CO2 terms).
That adds up to 4.6% of the world’s usual annual total.
The drop is five times bigger than the decline produced by the financial crisis of 2007–2008, which led to the Great Recession.
Emissions from economic behemoths China, the US, and Germany have dropped the most, followed by four of the largest other countries: Australia, Russia, Indonesia, and India.
How much effect will this drop have?
This is the largest decline since humans started producing greenhouse gas emissions.
As the study notes, “none of the attempts by any government or any international agreement in the 32-year history of intergovernmental climate policy has had such a dramatic mitigation effect.”
It took one of the worst pandemics in modern history to bring this about – and it still won’t have much of an effect.
If the world decided to replicate this 4.5% fall in emissions every year until 2050, that wouldn’t even be enough to ensure the world only heated up by 1.5°C, according to the study.
“(This drop in emissions) will still not be enough to avoid dangerous climate change, and may quickly be erased as we attempt to go back to business-as-usual and give way to ‘retaliatory pollution.’”
– PLOS ONE study
However, there have been positive consequences.
As well as the slight slowdown in global warming, the study also states that reductions in PM2.5 (particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter) “are likely to save thousands of lives.”
But of course, it shouldn’t take a horrific global pandemic to lower the spread of deadly emissions.
With that principle in mind, the study’s authors have urged action to ensure that the progress we’ve made (under duress, and out of necessity) isn’t lost before we feel any benefits.
They’ve encouraged countries to invest in a new version of the global economy, in which green energy technology and teleworking are encouraged, and we’re all more prepared for both climate change and another disaster like COVID-19.
“Humanity faces a choice: attempting to return to a business-as-usual path with more unnecessary crises, or developing a different economy that is compatible with more sustainable and resilient human societies,” the authors wrote.
“Clearly, the decision we take now and after the crisis will define our post-pandemic world.”