Coronavirus tipped to trigger record fall in global emissions

Since the outbreak began, worldwide demand for petrol has fallen 50 per cent and jet fuel 70 per cent. The Australia Institute has estimated emissions from global aviation alone could fall by up to 350 million tonnes by the end of the year. China’s carbon emissions fell by about 25 per cent, or 250 million tonnes, over four weeks at the height of its coronavirus lockdown.

Pep Canadell, a senior research scientist for CSIRO and the executive director of the Global Carbon Project, said the fast-moving changes to the global economy were hard to monitor but Carbon Brief’s “figures were credible”.

But he said even greater and sustained emissions reductions were required to avoid the worst effects of global warming.

“A 7 per cent emissions reduction is required every single year to limit warming to 1.5 degrees – which also means net zero emissions just before the middle of the century,” Dr Canadell said.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says the current trajectory of emissions will cause more than 3 degrees of global warming, and a 7.6 degree reduction year-on-year is required to meet the Paris target of 1.5 degrees.


ANU Climate Change Institute director Mark Howden said emissions contracted only 3 per cent during the global financial crisis and bounced back “within a couple of years”.

Bigger falls due to coronavirus presented the world with an opportunity to make structural economic changes, using stimulus spending to generate sustainable benefits on emissions, he said.

“The numbers are a bit rubbery at the moment, but the emissions reductions we are seeing could be 5 per cent, they could be 8 per cent,” Professor Howden said. “My concern is we revert to the default and go back to where things were, stimulated by government spending, and we don’t get any long-term benefit in emissions reduction.”


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