Study: How the coronavirus pandemic slashed carbon emissions — in five graphs

Nature discusses how the coronavirus pandemic slashed carbon emissions — in five graphs. Near-real-time data on carbon emissions reveal the sectors, countries and events that had the most impact, but it is unclear how long the dip will last.

The international response to the coronavirus pandemic has so far slashed global carbon emissions by more than 8%, according to detailed estimates from a pair of independent research teams. That’s roughly three times the annual emissions of Italy. But energy consumption is already rebounding in China and elsewhere, and the pandemic could register as little more than a blip in the climate system as government-imposed lockdowns come to an end.

Most reporting on carbon emissions takes place annually, but the unprecedented social and economic shock brought about by the pandemic has spurred interest in tracking energy and emissions trends in real time. Pulling information from a variety of sources — including energy and weather reports, satellite-based observations and traffic data collected by vehicle-navigation systems in more than 400 cities around the world — two international teams have now provided the first estimates of how carbon emissions are changing daily across the globe.

“The question was in the air,” says Corinne Le Quéré, a climate scientist at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, UK, and lead author of one study, published on 19 May in Nature Climate Change1. “We developed two different methods, so it’s quite encouraging to see that our results are comparable.”

References

  1. Le Quéré, C. et al. Nature Clim. Change https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-020-0797-x (2020).

  2. Liu, Z. et al. Preprint at https://arxiv.org/abs/2004.13614 (2020).

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