Coronavirus cuts China’s global carbon emissions quicker than climate negotiations

The coronavirus outbreak has had damaging effects on human health and commercial activities worldwide. It has however remarkably helped cut global carbon emissions. In China, the virus outbreak has cut that country’s carbon emissions by 25 per cent in four weeks, faster than what has been achieved in years of climate negotiations.

According to Lauri Myllyvirta, an analyst at the University of Helsinki’s Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air , China has cut down on its carbon emission by about 25 per cent.

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The analysis showed that China’s electricity demand and industrial output remains far below their usual levels across a range of indicators, many of which are at their lowest two-week average in several years.

According to the analysis posted on Carbon Brief, these include coal consumption at power plants was down 36 per cent; operating rates for main steel products were down by more than 15 per cent, while crude steel production was almost unchanged.

Coal throughput at the largest coal port reduced 29 per cent; coking plant utilisation came down 23 per cent; satellite-based NO2 levels were lowered by 37 per cent.

Use of oil refining capacity was reduced by 34 per cent.

At their peak, flight cancellations were reducing global passenger aviation volumes by 10 per cent, but the sector appears to be recovering with global capacity down five per cent in February as a whole.

The measures to contain coronavirus have resulted in reductions of 15 per cent to 40 per cent in output across China’s key industrial sectors.

This is likely to have wiped out a quarter or more of the country’s CO2 emissions over the past four weeks, the period when activity would normally have resumed after the Chinese new year holiday.

In a period of four weeks starting from February 3, 2020, average coal consumption at power plants reporting daily data fell to a four-year low, with no sign of recovery in the most recent data, covering March 1, 2020.

Over the same period in 2019, China released around 800m tonnes of CO2 (MtCO2), meaning the virus could have cut global emissions by 200MtCO2 to date.

However, experts are curious whether the impacts are sustained, or if they will be offset – or even reversed – by the government’s response to the crisis.

Initial analysis from the International Energy Agency (IEA) and Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) suggests the repercussions of the outbreak could shave up to half a percent off global oil demand in January-September this year.

However, the Chinese government’s coming stimulus measures in response to the disruption could outweigh these shorter-term impacts on energy and emissions, as it did after the global financial crisis and the 2015 domestic economic downturn.



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