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Coronavirus shows the limits of what personal choice can do for the climate

REUTERS/Carlos Barria
The coronavirus economic slowdown had a relatively small impact on emissions from power plants, still the world’s top source of CO2.
  • Tim McDonnell
By Tim McDonnell

Climate reporter

Coronavirus shutdowns have sent greenhouse gas emissions off a cliff. Early estimates project global emissions will decline by 5% to 8% by the end of the year—which might seem like a win for the climate. Emissions need to drop about 7.6% every year until 2030 to keep global warming in check. But as economies kick back into gear, emissions will return to where they were, or worse.

Now, the first peer-reviewed analysis of the pandemic’s impact on carbon dioxide emissions highlights another reason this kind of global crisis makes a poor model for climate action: It’s the most-polluting sector that saw the smallest percent decline in emissions.

Electric power plants are responsible for almost half of global CO2 emissions. But at the height of the coronavirus global shutdown, their emissions fell by only 7.4% compared to 2018 averages, from about 44.6 million metric tons per day to about 41.3 million.

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