As people shelter in place to slow the spread of COVID-19, daily carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions have dropped by as much as 17 percent globally, according to a new study by the Global Carbon Project, an initiative led by Stanford University scientist Rob Jackson. Published in Nature Climate Change, the paper compiles government policies and activity data to pinpoint where energy demand has dropped off the most and to estimate the impact on annual emissions.
Jackson, a professor of Earth system science in Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences (Stanford Earth), sees in the study’s findings the outlines of a greener economy and healthier society. Below, he discusses what the current pandemic can teach us about behavior change, kickstarting a recovery and more.
Does the Global Carbon Project’s study on daily declines in CO2 emissions associated with COVID-19 reveal any surprises?
The drop in global emissions we estimate this year will surprise some people in being “only” 4 to 7 percent because shelter-in-place rules are temporary and staggered across different countries. But it will still be the biggest emissions drop since World War II, though for undesirable and unsustainable reasons. More surprisingly, U.S. emissions declined one third for part of April, a shocking drop driven by reduced mobility, manufacturing and electricity demand.
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