03 Feb

Carbon Emissions are Currently Low, but Scientists Fear Rebound

Carbon dioxide emissions have decreased over the past few months due to shelter-in-place orders, with annual decrease figures nearing levels we have not seen since World War II. According to experts, however, these drops may be short-lived. 

An international study published in the Nature Climate Change Journal found that daily emissions have declined 17 percent between January and April and could decline by as much as an additional eight percent by the year’s end. 

Although these numbers may seem like cause for celebration, their potential to return to previous levels after the pandemic passes seems very likely. 

"I can't celebrate a drop in emissions driven by unemployment and forced behavior," Rob Jackson, study co-author and professor at Stanford University's Earth Science Systems department said. "We've reduced emissions for the wrong reasons."

Fewer people driving seems to be the primary factor in reduced emissions. According to the study, surface transport activity dropped by 50 percent by the end of April. Aviation saw a staggering 75 percent decrease in activity, but the aviation industry accounts for a smaller amount of global emissions. 

Carbon emissions are set to decrease by more than 20 percent this year alone. Meanwhile, the United Nations Environment projects a reduction of emissions by 7.6 percent per year between now and 2030. This will keep global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. 

The good news is that we are well on our way to required yearly reductions. The bad news is that if COVID-19 is anything like past crises, emission levels are more than likely to shoot back up to pre-pandemic levels. 

“Crises do not solve the climate problem,” Jackson said. “They buy us a year or two’s worth of time at most.” 

The news isn’t all bad, however — Jackson and other experts recognize that this period presents an opportunity to jumpstart alternatively fueled mobility like electric cars, as well as making urban areas even more pedestrian and cyclist-friendly. 

“We need to electrify transport quickly, coupled with clean energy,” Jackson said. “The blue skies that people have seen as we parked our cars have shown people what we could have every day by driving clean vehicles or walking and biking.” 

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