Coronavirus tipped to trigger record fall in global emissions

A grounded Jetstar fleet, during the coronavirus pandemic.
13 April 2020

Global carbon emissions are tipped to fall 6 per cent this year, more than during any previous economic crisis or war, led by a plunge in fuel consumption as the coronavirus hits economic activity and travel.

But experts say that won't be enough to achieve the Paris Agreement's ambition of limiting global warming to as close to 1.5 degrees as possible.

Climate change publisher Carbon Brief expects reductions in factory output and travel as countries try to control the spread of coronavirus will cut 2 billion tonnes from worldwide emissions, which hit a record 36.8 billion tonnes last year.

"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," Carbon Brief says.

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".

Read the full article, featuring commentary by Prof Mark Howden, on The Sydney Morning Herald website