Menu Menu

Carbon emissions down to 2006 levels due to coronavirus

Carbon dioxide levels fell 17 percent in April of this year compared to 2019, though the sudden drop isn’t expected to last.

It turns out that coronavirus is having more widespread effects that many of us probably imagined when early headlines started spilling from China in January.

The international lockdown and social distancing measures that are currently still in place have caused many businesses to shut down or temporarily pause operations. Worldwide shipping, transport, manufacturing, and power generation have all been significantly scaled back as a result, causing a dip in carbon dioxide emissions that brought them back down to 2006 levels in April of this year according to a report published by the journal Nature Climate Change.

Aviation also saw a cutback by 60 percent. Airline companies have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic, with top company executives warning that the industry could effectively be ‘killed off’ by long term quarantine. That’s worrying for many jobs and businesses of course, but the positives to our planet’s health can’t be ignored.

While this is good news for our environment in the immediate short term, there are reasons to be concerned. For one, the fact it’s taken a literal pandemic to get our global emissions levels back down to where they were only fourteen years ago shows how much we’ve continued to accelerate and ramp up pollution levels over the last decade or so despite constant warnings from top scientists.

The numbers won’t have a huge benefit to the environment on their own, either. It’ll need to be the start to a long-term trend for any real change to happen. Speaking to The Verge earlier this month, meteorology Sean Sublette described the dip as having ‘a bathtub spigot on full blast for a while and you turn it back 10 percent, but you’re still filling the bathtub’. We’ll need to capitalise on this trend moving forward if we’ve any hope of making a real difference.

It’s clear we’re not currently doing enough to fix this issue, and we need to be mindful of not increasing our pollution levels even more when things go back to normal, which is a serious concern from experts. It is very likely that world leaders and business owners will be keen to jump fully back into the swing of things for the sake of their livelihoods and economies when the coronavirus pandemic subsides. Trump’s constant urgency to ‘re-open America’ is evidence enough to suggest that this will be the case.

However, this unexpected shakeup to our way of living also gives us an opportunity as a species to turn things around and continue down a path of lowered emissions. If we can switch over to alternative green energy and rethink our tendency for rampant consumption and excess than we could see numbers continue to fall. It’s an optimistic stretch to say we’ll actually be able to pull it off, but perhaps coronavirus has given some industry leaders and businesses a little perspective? One can dream, at least.

For now we’ll have to continue to watch how things develop. One thing is for certain, though. None of us will be jetting off to any luxury holidays any time soon.