COVID-19 leads to decrease in global carbon emissions



This graph depicts the annual GDP, CO2 and CO2/GDP changes since 1990.

Since many aspects of society have been temporarily suspended due to the COVID-19 outbreak, climatologists and environmental organizations are studying the rapid decrease in carbon dioxide emissions around the world. The crisis has caused many businesses to shut down, civilian transportation to stop, and manufacturing to lessen, creating a decrease in overall emissions.

As the number of international documented cases of the virus quickly approaches 2.7 million, and many scientists are projecting social distancing to last longer than originally anticipated, many people are focusing on the negative aspects of the problem. But while there are clearly huge economic impacts of the virus, there have been some positive effects pertaining to the state and health of the climate.

Last year, during the months of February, March and April, China recorded an average of 700 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere daily. Because of a decrease in industrialization caused by the virus, this year’s statistics have shown an average of 410 daily metric tonnes. This decrease is an important international statistic because alongside India, Russia, Japan, Saudi Arabia and the United States, China has the highest carbon output in the world.

Starting in 1953 with Mao Zedong’s Five-Year-Plans, China’s industrialization has had many consequences for the climate, which can be seen in the Paris Agreement of 2016 and in the United Nations predictions of carbon emissions for the country. Many cities in China like Shenzhen, Shanghai, Tianjin and Guangzhou have poor air quality due to their high carbon emissions. But because the COVID-19 outbreak has decreased production in these cities, every industry’s carbon footprint has lessened.

If China continued to significantly decrease their carbon footprint after the COVID-19 outbreak, the ozone layer which protects the world from highly hazardous ultraviolet radiation would replenish, and climate change would lessen. The lessening of climate change would result in fewer natural disasters, improved air quality in many cities, and the emergence of new economic markets.

In the European Union (EU), officials have observed a 9 percent decrease in carbon emissions since mid-February due to a decrease in manufacturing and less civilian travel. The main advocates and supporters of the 2016 Paris Agreement predict these decreases in carbon emissions will continue to fall at a similar rate if the outbreak continues and halts societal functions.

Italy, which has the second highest deaths due to the virus following the United States, has seen a 27 percent decrease in power consumption compared to last year. The United Kingdom, which relies heavily on natural gas, has seen a similar decline in power consumption after parliament ordered a three-week lockdown period.

Now the epicenter of the outbreak, the United States has struggled to find accessible treatments and to implement societal changes as advised by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Like China, however, the United States predicts the carbon emissions in many major regions will decrease through social distancing.

In Massachusetts, the streets of Boston and local suburbs have been empty of cars, but no significant impact has been seen on the city’s carbon dioxide emissions. However, the COVID-19 outbreak has presented the opportunity for scientists to investigate which industries have the largest carbon footprint.

Logan Airport, Boston’s international depot for public and private air travel, has seen a 75 percent decrease in usage since COVID-19’s rapid spread around eastern Massachusetts, but the city has still seen no significant decrease in carbon dioxide.

While the economic and social impacts of the virus are certainly substantial, the COVID-19 outbreak can be an opportunity to measure the impact of decreased carbon emissions on the climate and atmosphere.




The Boston Globe


The New York Times

National Geographic

ICS Research