Data Reveals COVID-19 Outbreak Could Shrink Global CO2 Emissions From Fossil Fuels By 5% in 2020

The year 2020 could witness an unforeseen record of 2.5bn tonnes fall in the global carbon emissions from the fossil fuel industry. A reduction of 5% would represent the biggest drop in demand for fossil fuels on record due to the coronavirus pandemic.

As the coronavirus has triggered the unprecedented restrictions on travel, work, and industry, billions of barrels of oil, trillions of cubic meters of gas and millions of tonnes of coal is expected to cut from the global energy system alone in 2020, as per the data commissioned by the Guardian.

It would be the biggest drop in a single year in CO2 emissions from the fossil fuel industry on record, outshining the carbon slumps caused by the largest combined recessions of the last 50 years.

In 2020, in contrary to the expectation of climate experts of the rise in global carbon emissions from fossil fuels and cement production from an estimated 36.8bn tonnes of carbon dioxide last year, emissions may fall by about 5%, or 2.5bn tonnes of CO2, to its lowest levels in nearly a decade.

This steep decline in emissions from fossil fuels is not a climate triumph, warned Dr Fatih Birol, the head of the International Energy Agency.

“This decline is happening because of the economic meltdown in which thousands of people are losing their livelihoods, not as a result of the right government decisions in terms of climate policies,” he said.

“The reason we want to see emissions decline is because we want a more livable planet and happier, healthier people.”

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In a fossil fuel analysis undertaken by Rystad Energy, a Norwegian energy consultancy, a sharp contraction in GDP is found. The abrupt halt of flights and driving could cause a drop in the world’s oil demand by more than five times the decline in demand caused by the global financial crisis in 2008.

The demand for crude will fall by an average of 11m oil barrels per day this year, or 4bn barrels in total as estimated by analysts. It alone would reduce CO2 emissions of 1.8bn tonnes, which would otherwise have contributed to the climate crisis globally this year, according to Rystad.

Moreover, a slump in electricity use and heavy industry, as expected by analysts, resulted in a decrease in demand for gas and coal by about 2.3% each, cutting down carbon emissions from each fossil fuel by 200m tonnes and 500m tonnes respectively.

Erik Holm Reiso, a senior partner at Rystad, said: “The coronavirus pandemic is an unprecedented event for energy markets, which will have a substantial impact on the world’s total carbon emissions.

“The last time demand for oil contracted, during the financial crisis in 2008 to 2009, demand fell by 1.3m barrels of oil a day. But COVID-19 could cause oil demand to fall by more than five times as much.”

The global aviation industry is largely the reason for the unprecedented drop in oil demand, he said. Typically instead of about 99,700 commercial flights per day, air traffic falls by an average of almost a quarter over the year due to the restriction on non-essential travel to stop the spread of the virus.

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Fewer cars on the road will also dent demand for petrol and diesel by an average of 9.4% over the year that will shrink oil demand by an average of 2.6m barrels of oil daily in 2020.

This year, in the second half, the use of transport fuels may start recovering; however, the demand would lag the figures recorded the previous year, the analysts say.

In China, the world’s biggest importer of oil, energy demand is expected to start recovering next month, four months after the COVID-19 outbreak in the Wuhan province. However, it will take until September at the earliest to make a full return to normal levels, according to Rystad. A slow rise is expected in global energy demand in the second half of 2020, but a recovery to 2019 levels not forecasted in the current year.

Resio said: “The real question is over the long-term impact of the virus. If we learn that remote working can work, people may begin to question whether we need to take long haul flights to meet people in person. This could alter whether demand for oil ever recovers to the levels we have seen in previous years.”

However, Birol said if governments didn’t take the right measures to include support for clean energy in new economic stimulus packages, “then this decline could be easily wiped out in the rebound of the economy,” once COVID-19 is brought under control.

He said: “These figures are important and impressive. But they don’t make me happy. For me it’s more important about what happens next year, and the year after that.”

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