Emissions Plummet Amid Coronavirus Shutdown

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Air pollution and CO2 levels around the globe have dropped significantly in the past few weeks as commuter travel and manufacturing ground to a halt in the wake of the coronavirus.

According to a report from The BBC, “early results showed carbon monoxide mainly from cars had been reduced by nearly 50% compared with last year,” after analysing data from New York City, carbon dioxide levels have also dropped dramatically.

Traffic levels have been down around 35% in New York City compared to 2019 data, with researchers at Columbia University calling it an unprecedented reduction in emissions; the team recorded a 10% drop of CO2 in New York, mirrored by a drop in methane levels around the city.

Scientists are predicting that by May, when CO2 emissions are highest due to decomposition of leaves, they expect to record the lowest carbon emissions levels since the 2008 global financial crisis.

Graphic courtesy of NASA

“New York has had exceptionally high carbon monoxide numbers for the last year and a half,” said Professor Roisin Commane, who spearheaded the project. “And this is the cleanest I have ever seen it. It’s less than half of what we normally see in March,” she added.

According to analysis from Carbon Brief, there has been a 25% drop in energy use and emissions in China over the past two-week period, and is set to reduce China’s carbon emissions for the year by a percentage point.

“Both China and Northern Italy have also recorded significant falls in nitrogen dioxide, which is related to reduced car journeys and industrial activity. The gas is both a serious air pollutant and a powerful warming chemical,” writes the BBC.

“While people working from home will likely increase the use of home heating and electricity, the curbing of commuting and the general slowdown in economies will likely have an impact on overall emissions,” they continued to explain.

Professor Commane said that “I expect we will have the smallest increase in May to May peak CO2 that we’ve had in the northern hemisphere since 2009, or even before.”

The professor’s sentiment was echoed by Professor Corinne Le Quere from the University of East Anglia, who said that “it will depend on how long the pandemic lasts, and how widespread the slowdown is in the economy particularly in the US. But most likely I think we will see something in the global emissions this year… It if lasts another three or four months, certainly we could see some reduction.”

Scientists are stating that government stimulus packages are expected to increase carbon emissions, as factories recommence activities at a high rate of production in an attempt to catch up on lost time. After the 2008 financial crisis, for example, carbon emissions sky-rocketed by 5% as a result of stimulus packages increasing the use of fossil fuel-backed production.

Professor Le Quere said that “governments now have to be really cautious on how they re-stimulate their economies, mindful of not locking in fossil fuels again.”

“They should focus those things that are ready to go that would lower emissions, like renovating buildings, putting in heat pumps and electric chargers. These are not complicated and can be done straight away, they are just waiting for financial incentives.”

Professor Glen Peters from the Centre for International Climate Research expects that governments will forgo environmental impacts of a stimulus package, stating that “I certainly think climate could go on the back burner, and in this case, I don’t think there is much hope that stimulus goes to clean energy.”

“Any stimulus will help those with job losses such as tourism and services. I think this is very different to the global financial crisis. The only silver linings could be to learning new practices to work remotely, and buying a few years of lower growth allowing solar and wind to catch up a bit, though, these may be rather small silver linings,” he concluded.

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