It comes as no surprise that CO2 emissions have dropped dramatically as a result of the worldwide travel restrictions and 'lockdowns'. Air travel has been suspended and the roads are barren.
Although this may mean that, among other things, cyclists have been given almost free rein of the roads when cashing in their daily doses of exercise, it has had an obvious and significant impact on the atmosphere.
Multiple sources have indicated that 2020 may see the largest decrease in carbon output ever recorded.
You may have seen the striking images highlighting the visible change in air pollution in major cities around the world as a result of the pandemic. However, these are short-term, localised changes. What, if any, are the longer term and/or global implications of this record-breaking reduction in emissions?
For insights, we can look back at data from past events that caused similar sudden drops in yearly CO2 emissions, such as the Great Depression, the 1st and 2nd oil shocks and the financial crash in 2008-2009. While the coronavirus pandemic of 2020 is likely to substantially overshadow these previous shocks (a drop in CO2 emissions of between six and ten times larger than during the last global recession), past data show that a sharp rise may be likely to follow in the next couple of years. However, one question is that, when the energy demand picks back up, can the growth be supplied by greener energy sources? Moreover, will the sudden lifestyle change that many of us have experienced spur on innovation in this sector? This could be an interesting by-product resulting from the global crisis.
Although it is unlikely that the coronavirus pandemic will lead to a sustained emissions drop, it is possible that it may lead to an attitude change in relation to fuels and air pollution that could have future impacts.
For example, while Paris saw a CO2 drop of 72% (+/- 15%) in March compared to normal, in the same period New York saw a reduction in CO2 of only around 10%. Most of these emissions in New York come from emissions related to the heating of buildings and depend on the city's sources of electricity. Based on this surprisingly small CO2 drop, a Columbia University professor has said that "personal behaviour really isn't going to fix the carbon emission problem. We need a systematic change in how energy is generated and transmitted".
No matter what, if any, concrete changes are made in the aftermath of the crisis, the effects will nevertheless be interesting to follow as they develop in the coming years. We look forward to seeing the innovation that results.
We're living through the biggest carbon crash ever recorded. No war, no recession, no previous pandemic has had such a dramatic impact on emissions of CO2 over the past century as Covid-19 has in a few short months.