Greenhouse-gas Emissions Down 17% Year-Over-Year

The International Energy Agency has reported that daily emissions are down 17% year-over-year, as a result of the pandemic. This could result in a total drop in emissions of 8% by the end of 2020, but still leaves us 90% short of the targets set by the Paris Agreement.

2 mintues
May 29, 2020

This week, The Economist reported that the IEA (International Energy Agency) is expecting an 8% drop in global greenhouse-gas emissions in 2020, largely as a result of reduced transportation because of the pandemic. On a day-by-day basis, daily emissions in the first week of April were down 17% year-over-year. This is extremely promising, since lower greenhouse gasses (such as CO2 and methane) would result in more heat being able to escape the atmosphere -- though the road to get us here has come at great economic and human cost.

However, this also highlights just how far we would need to go in order to reach the Paris Agreement targets of only 1.5C increase in temperatures: The dramatic life changes we've made in the wake of the pandemic still leave 90% of decarbonization needed to hit the Agreement's targets. Much more work is still needed.

In further analysis, the IEA also revealed that in countries in full lockdown, energy demand is down 25%. For those in partial lockdown, the demand is down 18%. The assertion made by the IEA is that while this appears to be an unqualified positive on the surface, the current decline in energy demand is also easing some of the public's appetite to tackle climate change. This would be a sad consequence, given the scale of the problem we have yet to solve.

However, pandemics and planetary problems do not respect borders and can emerge rapidly to affect daily life. Now might be the moment to explore what economists have long been fans of: carbon-pricing. With the cost of oil as low as it is (at about $35 for WTI Crude at the time of this writing), now might be the time that there could be public appetite for a carbon tax. Tax dollars could then help fund the further efforts needed to advance the additional decarbonization required to finally de-couple the age-old statistical correlation of global GDP with global emissions.

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