COVID-19 lockdown cutting CO2 emissions: With a caveat

(© alexandra –

One bit of good news from the economic collapse that has come with the COVID-19 public health response: CO2 emissions are falling dramatically.

A Virginia Tech expert is slowing our roll on this, though, telling us that the long-term impacts on the concentrations of CO2 that have accumulated in the atmosphere over decades could be limited.

“Carbon dioxide emissions are decreasing as the global economy contracts in response to stay-at-home orders related to the coronavirus,”

“It’s too early to tell how significant this decrease will be because it depends on how long the lockdowns will last,” said Brian Romans, an associate professor of sedimentary geoscience in the College of Science at Virginia Tech. 

The analysis by the U.K.-based website Carbon Brief anticipates that 2020 will show the largest annual fall in CO2 emissions ever recorded, approximately 5.5 percent of 2019 global total emissions.

With many industrial, heavily-populated cities in some form of lockdown, current data now suggests that the pandemic could unintentionally reduce emissions by 2,000 metric tons this year from the entire expected output of China, the United States, the European Union, the Indian power sector and the global oil sector, according to Carbon Brief.

Romans says this reduction in carbon dioxide emissions for 2020 may provide the industrialized world a sense of the scale of the challenge in the face of rising climate change and increasing heat levels.

“A one-time drop in emissions of this amount would not be enough to make progress towards limiting the increase in global temperatures to 1.5 degree Celsius — 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit — suggested by the Paris Agreement,” Romans said.

“Ultimately, the economic response to a global pandemic will provide humanity a sense of the magnitude of the energy-carbon-climate challenge we face. Whether or not this will motivate people to advocate for more aggressive emissions-reduction policies remains to be seen.”

Story by Chris Graham. Information from Virginia Tech Media Relations.

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