There aren’t many positive ways to spin the coronavirus crisis, but there’s no denying that it has been good for the environment. A historic reduction in travel, with people around the world staying at home, global carbon dioxide emissions have declined at unprecedented rates.
According to an international study of global carbon emissions, published in the Nature Climate Change journal, global daily emissions between January and April 2020 have declined by 17 percent compared to the same time period in 2019. Daily emissions could decline a further 4.4 to 8 percent by the end of the year. This would be the largest annual decrease in carbon emissions since World War II.
The reduction in carbon emissions was primarily due to fewer people driving and flying during the stay-at-home orders and travel restrictions. Since the reduction in emissions is directly tied to the pandemic, it’s unclear how long the lower levels will last.
Rob Jackson, professor in Stanford University’s earth science systems department and study co-author, told CNN, “I can’t celebrate a drop in emissions driven by unemployment and forced behavior. We’ve reduced emissions for the wrong reasons.”
While lower emissions are always good news for the environment, a global health crisis isn’t the way to make positive change happen. When life returns to normal, however, Jackson is optimistic that behaviors learned during the pandemic will transfer to our new everyday life.
“The blue skies people have seen as we’ve parked our cars,” said Jackson, “have shown people what we could have every day by driving clean vehicles or walking and biking.”