The Impact of COVID-19 On Carbon Emissions

by Lion Vega

In 2020, the world was greatly affected due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has put a strain on everyone’s lives socially, financially and mentally. Although there are many downsides to the pandemic, there seemed to be a positive aspect amid the disaster. Prior to the global pandemic, CO2 emissions were steadily rising at a rate of 1 percent per year compared to the previous decades. The emissions are produced by burning fuel for power or heat, through chemical reactions, and from leaks from industrial processes or equipment. Most direct emissions come from the consumption of fossil fuels for energy. The emissions cause global warming which ultimately leads to climate change. Renewable energy production was expanding rapidly due to decreased prices, but most of the renewable energy was being used at the same time as fossil energy. Since this happened, fossil energy was chosen over renewable since it was simpler. COVID-19 emerged on December 30, 2019 and then it was declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization on March 11, 2020. The government placed travel restrictions, self-isolation, and mass gathering rules in hopes of reducing or stopping the spread of the virus. Due to the majority of the population being immobilized, this led to a drastic change in energy use. The change in CO2 emissions is directly due to the population being confined, which forced a reduction in energy demand. This effect provides a clear indication of the potential positive changes that extreme measures could have with the current energy consumption. According to the World Meteorologist Organization (WMO), the global average atmospheric CO2 concentration in 2019 was 410.5ppm, which was an increase of 2.6ppm since 2018. For further clarification, “ppm” means parts per million which is the unit used to measure the mass of a chemical or contaminate per unit volume of water. This was larger than the increase from 2017 to 2018 and was even bigger than the average over the past decade. Because of the lockdowns in early 2020, carbon emissions fell by 17% at their peak, but the overall effect on concentration has been very small. Below are the ranges around various countries regarding CO2 emissions.


 Another study published in Nature Communications shows the carbon reduction outcome.

 “The greatest reduction of emissions was observed in the ground transportation sector,” explains Daniel Kammen, professor and Chair of the Energy and Resources Group, “Largely because of working from home restrictions, transport CO2 emissions decreased by 40 percent worldwide. In contrast, the power and industry sectors contributed less to the decline, with –22 and –17%, respectively, as did the aviation and shipping sectors. Even the residential sector saw a small emission drop of 3% largely because of an abnormally warm winter in the northern hemisphere, heating energy consumption decreased with most people staying at home all day during lockdown periods. 

Carbon emissions have dropped due to people staying in their homes during lockdown, consuming less energy. The data researchers have collected could help them to map out a plan to prevent further emissions.

Without knowing when the end of the pandemic will be will cause further questions and concerns about the near future. 


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