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CO2 emissions are down to 2006 levels during the COVID-19 pandemic

Stay-at-home orders have helped alleviate some of the damage done by air pollution

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Photo (c) Petmal - Getty Images
As experts continue to report on the countless ways air pollution negatively affects consumers’ health, a new study highlighted how the COVID-19 pandemic has led to improvements in air quality. 

Researchers found that mandated time at home has led carbon emissions to drop globally by over 25 percent. However, despite these positive findings, the researchers don’t believe these advancements will hold up over time. 

“...Most changes in 2020 are likely to be temporary as they do not reflect structural changes in the economic, transport, or energy systems,” the researchers wrote. “The social trauma of confinement and associated changes could alter the future trajectory in unpredictable ways, but social responses alone, as shown here, would not drive the deep and sustained reductions needed to reach net-zero emissions.” 

Cleaner air... for now

For this study, the researchers created a confinement index that allowed them to track how different regulations during the pandemic affected CO2 output. 

The study involved carbon emissions data taken from nearly 70 countries around the world. The researchers compared emissions levels from this time last year with this year’s levels through the end of April. They then broke down emissions levels into six different categories: public buildings and commerce, aviation, power, residential, industry, and public transportation. 

The researchers learned that mandated time inside led carbon emissions levels to drop globally by over 25 percent. However, they explained that because of the way the virus spread, reductions in individual countries were much higher, as each nation ramped up restrictions at different points. 

Ultimately, the sharpest drops in carbon emissions correlated with times when the strictest stay-at-home orders were given. Carbon emissions were down by nearly 20 percent on a daily level, which the researchers credit to the global reduction in public transportation. 

However, when it comes to the future, or even the rest of this year, the researchers are skeptical about how these improvements to air quality will hold up. 

“The change for the rest of the year will depend on the duration and extent of the confinement, the time it will take to resume normal activities, and the degree to which life will resume its preconfiment course,” the researchers wrote. 

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