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Global emissions fall faster than at any time on record as COVID-19 hits economies

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Daily emissions – extrapolated from data such as electricity generation in 31 countries, vehicle traffic in more than 400 cities, and industrial output in 62 nations – were down 16.9 per cent versus April 2019, the researchers said.

Among the main sectors, transport recorded the biggest slump in emissions as lockdowns restricted the movement of people, sliding 40 per cent. Within that group, aviation emissions plunged almost 44 per cent, a rate that has accelerated slightly into July.

The estimates came a day after the International Energy Agency predicted full-year emissions for 2020 would be about 7 per cent lower than in 2019. The decline in fossil-fuel use has also been compounded by the relentless fall in renewable energy prices, particularly solar.

During the first half of the year, emissions in the US were down 13.3 per cent, the European Union and the United Kingdom fell 12.7 per cent.

Those in India were down 15.4 per cent while those in China – where the coronavirus first emerged – only dropped 3.7 per cent as that nation’s economy rebounded.

The researchers cautioned that the reduction would likely be temporary and only tiny compared with long-run increase in atmospheric concentrations of the carbon dioxide and other gases.

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“While the CO2 drop is unprecedented, decreases of human activities cannot be the answer,” said Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, founding director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, and one of the report’s author.

“Instead we need structural and transformational changes in our energy production and consumption systems,” Professor Schellnhuber said.

“Individual behaviour is certainly important, but what we really need to focus on is reducing the carbon intensity of our global economy.”

Data gathered by Ndevr Environmental, a consultancy, estimated Australia’s emissions from petrol in the January-June period sank 15 per cent to 13.1 million tonnes of carbon-dioxide equivalent and those of aviation by 44 per cent to 4.7 million tonnes.

“What is really concerning in the report is the strong rebound effect due to a lack of structural change,” Richie Merzian, Climate & Energy Program Director at The Australia Institute, said.

“That is especially the case in Australia given there isn’t a single, not even one, national policy to cut transport pollution.”

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Pep Canadell, executive director of the Global Carbon Project, said dust, smoke and other environmental issues were being tracked and reported on using satellites and other technology, but not greenhouse gases until lately.

“Having a more real time system provides stronger and immediate feedback to society and governments on the evolution of our carbon emissions and the sectors contributing the most or being affected the most by intentional namely, climate mitigation) or unintentional (such as the COVID-19 pandemic) changes in the energy system,” Dr Canadell said.

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