Coronavirus on track to cause record global CO2 emissions drop

2020 CO2 emissions forecast to fall 5.5 percent from 2019 levels

We know coronavirus is causing widespread tragic health and economic impacts. I can’t imagine anyone would want to see CO2 emissions drop due to a tragic situation like this. But one effect of the sudden economic shutdown is likely to be the biggest drop in global CO2 emissions on record.

Simon Evans from Carbon Brief has been crunching emissions numbers during the COVID-19 outbreak. While there is still uncertainty for the rest of this year, it’s becoming increasingly clear that 2020 will likely produce the biggest CO2 emissions drop on record.

The updated estimates on Wednesday suggest a 5.5 percent drop in global CO2 emissions in 2020.

Update April 15, 2020: This analysis was updated in light of new forecasts for global oil demand in 2020, which suggest a significantly larger drop this year. The original version had put the potential impact of coronavirus at 1,600MtCO2 in 2020, equivalent to 4% of 2019 emissions.

This updated tentative estimate is equivalent to around 5.5 percent of the global total in 2019. As a result, the coronavirus crisis could trigger the largest ever annual fall in CO2 emissions in 2020, more than during any previous economic crisis or period of war.

The report points out that getting precise emissions data this rapidly changing situation is a challenge. It also puts some perspective on how this year’s emissions changes fit into the bigger picture of what it would take to keep global temperatures in check.

Even this would not come close to bringing the 1.5C global temperature limit within reach. Global emissions would need to fall by some 7.6 percent every year this decade – nearly 2,800MtCO2 in 2020 – in order to limit warming to less than 1.5C above preindustrial temperatures.

To put it another way, atmospheric carbon levels are expected to increase again this year, even if CO2 emissions cuts are greater still. Rising CO2 concentrations — and related global warming — will only stabilize once annual emissions reach net-zero.

Your support matters.

You make MPR News possible. Individual donations are behind the clarity in coverage from our reporters across the state, stories that connect us, and conversations that provide perspectives. Help ensure MPR remains a resource that brings Minnesotans together.