WASHINGTON – Global greenhouse gas emissions are on track to decrease nearly 8 percent this year. This is the largest drop ever seen since global coronavirus barriers have triggered an “unprecedented” drop in fossil fuel use, the International Energy Agency said in a new report on Thursday.
However, experts warned that the decline should not be seen as good news for efforts to combat climate change. If the pandemic subsides and nations take steps to get their economies back on track, emissions could increase again if governments fail to make concerted efforts to move towards cleaner energy as part of their recovery efforts.
“This historic drop in emissions is happening for the wrong reasons,” said Fatih Birol, executive director of the agency. “People are dying and countries are currently suffering from enormous economic trauma. The only way to sustainably reduce emissions is not painful barriers, but the implementation of the right energy and climate policy. “
More than 4 billion people live in countries where economic activity has been partially or more fully halted to slow the spread of the virus. By mid-April, energy consumption in many of these countries was 17 to 25 percent lower than in 2019, as the factories were idle, employees were no longer driving to work and the airlines had stopped their flights.
The agency currently expects many governments, such as China, to ease these restrictions later in the year has already done and how Some states are starting to do so in the United States. Nevertheless, global carbon dioxide emissions are expected to decrease by around 2.6 billion tons this year, which corresponds to a decrease of 8 percent compared to 2019.
This would bring global emissions back to 2010 levels and wipe out a decade of global growth in fossil fuel use. The projected annual decrease in emissions would be six times the decrease after the global financial crisis in 2009 and a far greater decrease than at any point during the Great Depression or at the end of World War II when much of Europe was in ruins.
However, there are many uncertainties about the early estimates.
If countries remain locked for longer than expected, or if companies find it difficult to recover from the pandemic, the drop in emissions could be greater. In contrast, a faster control of the virus this year would mean a smaller decrease in emissions.
The report also found that global emissions after past crises tend to return to the previous level after the first shock. And if countries like China try to help their troubled economies by easing environmental regulations or subsidizing polluting industries like coal or steel, the resulting increase in emissions could be even greater than the decrease.
This happened after the financial crisis a decade ago: by 2010, global emissions were higher than ever as nations invested heavily in fossil fuels to get out of the recession.
“One of the big questions now is whether countries decide to put clean energy at the center of their stimulus packages,” said Birol.
This week executives from Germany, UK, Japan and other countries held a video conference Nations are encouraged to invest in technology to reduce emissions such as solar energy or electric vehicles while planning their economic recovery efforts. “There will be a difficult debate about the allocation of funds,” said Chancellor Angela Merkel. “But it is important that recovery programs always keep an eye on the climate.”
The current crisis has changed the global energy landscape dramatically for the time being.
Global oil consumption fell nearly 5 percent in the first quarter of this year, the report said. By March global road traffic had declined by almost 50 percent and air traffic by 60 percent compared to 2019. This slump in fuel demand has led to a fall in crude oil prices worldwideThis weighed on the budgets of major oil producers like Saudi Arabia and brought drilling companies in places like Texas to the brink of bankruptcy.
Global consumption of coal, the dirtiest of all fossil fuels, declined by almost 8 percent in the first quarter of the year. Much of it was caused by the early shutdown of the corona virus in China, the world’s largest coal consumer. But even though Chinese coal-fired power plants are starting up again, the global coal industry is is facing an ongoing threat from cheaper and cleaner energy sources like natural gas and renewable energy.
In contrast, wind and solar energy saw a slight increase in demand during the pandemic.
An important reason for this: Many countries use significantly less electricity because office buildings, restaurants and cinemas close. However, since existing wind turbines and solar modules are low cost to operate, they usually take precedence over power grids, which means that they still work closer to full capacity, while fossil fuel plants are allowed to operate less frequently.
Despite the record drop in emissions, scientists warned that the world was faced with an enormous task to bring global warming under control.
The United Nations has stated that global emissions would have to decrease by almost 8 percent each year by 2030 if countries hoped to keep global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius, which world leaders have deemed necessary to avoid catastrophic social problems, economic and environmental damage from climate change.
“A closure is only a one-time event, it cannot take you there,” said Glen Peters, research director at the Center for International Climate Research in Norway.
He pointed out that despite the widespread blockades, the global economy continues to rely heavily on fossil fuels for all power plants, trucks, planes, cars and heavy industries that continue to operate during the crisis.
While experts found that the current locks will not last forever, some expressed hope that they could demonstrate some of the benefits of switching to cleaner energy. For example, cities like los Angeles and Milan Air pollution and smog have decreased dramatically as fewer people drive and cars don’t drive on the street.
“I hope the remarkable air quality improvements we’ve seen remind us of what it could be like when we switch to green electricity and electric vehicles,” said Rob Jackson, a geologist at Stanford University.