Covid-19 brings South Africa’s daily carbon emissions down by 20%

South Africa’s carbon emissions dropped by a quarter of a million tonnes each day after March 27, when the national lockdown came into effect. Across a whole year, this would mean emissions would drop by nearly 100-million tonnes, or about 20%, if level 5 lockdown were to continue.

This is according to data collected by the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom and published in the journal Nature Climate Change on Tuesday. The research is titled Temporary Reduction in Daily Global CO2 Emissions During the Covid-19 Forced Confinement. Similar research has been done elsewhere, looking at the effect of countries shutting down industry and people not travelling. The East Anglia study is the first research to have gone through the peer review process.  

The research found that, on April 7, daily global carbon emissions dropped 17%. This is the day when the most countries and the most number of people were under some sort of a lockdown. This level of pollution is the same as levels back in 2006. The data covers the 69 countries that account for 97% of all carbon emissions globally.

Nearly half of the drop (43%) comes from people travelling on land — in cars, trains and buses — and a similar drop comes from fewer emissions from industry and energy production. A full 10% of the drop comes from flights, which normally account for 3% of global carbon emissions. 

With economies recovering, people going back to work and industries firing up, the researchers expect global carbon emissions to drop by 7.5% for the whole year. 


This research highlights the reality that the reductions in carbon emissions that are required to keep global heating at safe levels are not going to be done by individuals’ actions alone. Much of human activity came to a halt during lockdown and still 83% of global emissions continued. 
The United Nations’ climate body — the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — said in a seminal 2018 report that carbon emissions need to drop by about 7.5% every single year to keep heating below 1.5°C.

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Sipho Kings
Sipho Kings is the acting editor-in-chief of the Mail & Guardian

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