Covid-19 affect on carbon levels

Covid-19 effect on carbon levels

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Washington, DC during COVID-19 outbreak. (Photo Credit: dmbosstone)

As the world goes into lock down to combat the Covid-19 pandemic, carbon emissions in the atmosphere are declining1. Amidst the distress and chaos, our planet is given the opportunity to reboot2. If there is any silver lining to the unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic, it would be the slowdown of human activities reducing the greenhouse gas emissions and improving the air quality around the world2. Regardless of the positive effect of Covid-19 on the atmospheric carbon levels, experts say the drop won’t last if governments don’t start moving to cleaner energy3.

Covid-19 effect on carbon emissions levels

With industries, businesses and transport services closed down and streets remaining eerily empty as people stay locked away in their homes, a sudden drop in global carbon emissions has been recorded. In early April of 2020, daily global CO2 emissions decreased by 17%4.

In China, carbon emissions dropped by nearly 25% at the beginning of the year after factories closed, people were obliged to stay indoors and coal usage dropped to nearly 40% due to six of the largest power plants running at minimal levels5. In addition, in Europe, satellite images show a similar pattern with greenhouse gas emissions declining in Italy, Spain and the UK due to falls in power demands, industrial activity and transport traffic6.

Daily global carbon emissions from 1970 to 2020, indicating the drop over the past five months due to COVID-19 lockdowns (Photo Credit: Nature Climate Change)
Global CO2 Emissions in 2020. (Source: University of East Anglia, UEA)

Lessons learnt?

Let’s help the planet reboot.

The real lesson from this devastating pandemic is that we must globally shift our energy production away from burning of fossil fuels and towards a more sustainable and low-carbon method as soon as possible1,7.

With countries soon beginning to rebuild their collapsed economies, an opportunity arises to build a more resilient and sustainable future; one where humanity lives in a ‘greener’ way2. This can be done by reducing our carbon emissions, conserving biodiversity, and protecting the ecosystems of the world2. We can begin with the smallest actions such as planting trees or restoring our forests to help absorb more CO2 from the atmosphere. This will then contribute to global measures used to combat climate change8.

Trees are powerful absorbing agents for atmospheric carbon dioxide. (Photo Credit: Pexels/Skitterphoto)

Scientists agree that the sudden fall in carbon emissions will be short-lived and are likely to ‘bounce back’ as economies reset. As a result, the effect on carbon levels from the pandemic is only temporary5. In fact, carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere are still continuing, just at a slower rate. Even though we see a fall in carbon levels, we know that until annual emissions reach net-zero world wide, climate change will still persist9.


  1. Harvey, F. (2020) Lockdowns trigger dramatic fall in global carbon emissions, the Guardian. Available at: 
  2. World Bank Blogs. (2020). Planet REBOOT: An opportunity to reshape the world after COVID-19. [online] Available at:
  3. United Nations Environment (2020). Record global carbon dioxide concentrations despite COVID-19 crisis. UN Environment. Available at:
  4. Earth.Org – Past | Present | Future. (2020). “Extreme” 17% Drop in Global Carbon Emissions Due to COVID-19 Shutdowns | Earth.Org – Past | Present | Future. Available at: 
  5. Global Data Energy (2020). How has Covid-19 affected global carbon neutrality and emissions. Power Technology, Energy News and Market Analysis. Available at: 
  6. Madeleine Stone (2020). Carbon emissions are falling sharply due to coronavirus. But not for long. [online] National Geographic. Available at: 
  7. Harvey, F. (2020). Covid-19 economic rescue plans must be green, say environmentalists. The Guardian. Available at: 
  8. Carrington, D. (2019) Tree planting ‘has mind-blowing potential’ to tackle climate crisisthe Guardian. Available at:
  9. Simon Evans (2020). Analysis: Coronavirus set to cause largest ever annual fall in CO2 emissions | Carbon Brief. Available at:

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