Post Covid-19 World – How to sustain the decline in carbon emissions?

Recent lockdowns implemented by several countries around the globe have slowed down the transmission rate but they have also damaged the economy severely, pushing the world towards recession, and possibly a depression.

Several countries, including many in Europe, have started to ease the lockdown restrictions with caution to help recover the economy and get life back to a form of normality. However, some restrictions, such as social distancing, will be in force until a vaccine is found.

What impacts have been discerned from a recent pandemic?


The world is witnessing a record decline in CO2 (and other greenhouse gases) emissions due to lockdown and people are breathing relatively fresh air. The studies suggest that the major decline in CO2 has mainly come from a decrease in road and air travel.


The International Energy Agency (IEA) has indicated that global electricity demand has also reduced by approximately 20% and renewable energy generation increased by 1.5% which will have a knock-on effect on the use of coal and carbon emissions.


IEA has also estimated that the world will use approximately 6% less energy in 2020, the biggest drop since the Great Depression of the 1930s. This will be equivalent to the total energy demand of the UK, France, Germany and Italy in 2019. The estimated decline of 6% would be more than seven-fold the impact of the 2008 financial crunch on global energy demand, reversing the growth of global energy demand over the last half-decade.


Change in Global CO2 emissions 1900 – 2020 (Billion tonnes of CO2 per year)


Source: IEA, Annual change in global energy-related CO2 emissions, 1900-2020, IEA, Paris


The above graph indicates the decline in CO2 due to a number of events since 1900. A drop of approximately 450 million teCO2 was seen between 2008 and 2009 due to the financial crisis which was much smaller than CO2 decline noticed during the aftermath of WW II. Nevertheless, the Covid-19 is expected to result in a record decline of approximately 2.6 billion teCO2, the biggest ever decline anticipated in a single year.


But the above graph also indicates a sharp increase in CO2 after the decline in 2009. The change in CO2 could happen in similar fashion in the next few years unless major behavioural and policy changes are exercised to sustain existing decline.


Though IEA estimates that CO2 could drop by 8% as compared to 2019, BBC understands that we need approx. 5% reduction in CO2 every year to reach net-zero by 2050.


Lockdown is not a sustainable solution for the CO2 reductions achieved, but we have learnt some critical and important messages from the Covid-19 crisis and we must make it a turning-point towards becoming a net-zero planet.


How to sustain the decline in greenhouse gas emissions?

The Businesses have shown resilience never seen before by making new plans overnight including working from home, and working with the government to retain existing employees.


The British government has been urged by its advisers to plan a green recovery to the economy and offer help to the businesses who commit to reducing greenhouse gases. They may be offered support in terms of financial grants or tax exemptions over time.


The Chairman of the Committee on Climate Change(CCC), Lord Deben, has said “The Covid-19 crisis has shown the importance of planning well for the risks the country faces. Recovery means investing in new jobs, cleaner air and improved health. The actions needed to tackle climate change are central to rebuilding our economy. The government must prioritise actions that reduce climate risks and avoid measures that lock-in higher emissions”, as reported by BBC.


Behaviour Change & Energy Efficiency

As we are returning towards some form of normality in small steps, we must adopt environment friendly practices, such as walking or cycling to workplaces and schools, where possible.


We should only use energy when we need it such as turning off appliances and lighting when not in use. Reducing waste and only buying what can be eaten. We should switch to energy efficient devices such as LED lighting combined with control via timers and smart plugs.

Remote Working or Working from Home

Road transport, probably the biggest contributor to air pollution and air emissions is at its lowest level since few decades due to lockdown and people have adapted to working from home and are communicating via e-meetings. This has resulted in a significant dip in road traffic, accidents, use of car parks, bus and train stations and thus a considerable drop in vehicle fuel and associated greenhouse gas emissions. On the other hand, there would have been some increase in energy use at home but it should be offset by savings from energy use in transport.


Working from home saves commuting time and cost for employees, and overhead costs for employers which includes office spaces, energy & water use and parking spaces. Any additional savings could be invested in employee benefits such as health or energy efficiency and on-site generation from renewable sources.


Longevity Intelligence has stated in their recent research that an average UK employee could produce 28% less CO2 through remote working and reduced travel, and office occupancy is expected to shrink by approximately 50%, writes Future Net-Zero.


This provides an extraordinary opportunity to transform unused spaces into green belts, solar or wind farms. The annual budget for transport could be reviewed and reduced following less number of vehicles on the road, and diverted towards expanding cycle lanes, up-gradation of broadband to provide high-speed internet, development of new charging infrastructure for electric vehicles (EV).


The British government has pledged to immediately invest £250m for improvements to cycling and walking infrastructure to encourage employees circumventing the use of personal cars using fossil fuels or public transport, returning to work after relaxation in lockdown.


Remote working will not be possible for a number of sectors including manufacturing, but business travel should be minimised where possible. People with children or living in shared houses may choose to commute to the workplace due to lack of space and it is therefore encouraged that the government should build an infrastructure for hot desks in each town and city that should be powered by renewable energy and accessible on foot. Existing public libraries could also be upgraded to accommodate additional hot desks to help employees avoid the daily commute.

Energy from Renewable Sources

The government and businesses are keen to get back to the pre-crisis level of output or even more, however, it must prioritise energy from renewable sources rather than conventional fossil fuels.


Those businesses who already have on-site energy generation must have benefitted from meeting their negligible energy demand without grid supply when not in production and generating income by exporting excess electricity back to the grid. This would provide some extra income during the crisis or at least reduce the overhead costs.

With the ever-declining cost of renewable energy utilities and increasing efficiency, payback times have improved dramatically. Increase in energy use caused by remote working should be met by renewable energy sources such as solar PV and solar thermal.


The digitalisation of health, education and other services

The UK has seen a dramatic increase in digitalisation of GP appointments (via phone or video calls) and other health services. Educational and training institutes are also offering online training.



Behaviour change is a key to green comeback after lockdown. The UK has a golden opportunity to lead the world in making a green economic recovery by ensuring that lessons from the pandemic are mastered at the highest level. The government should only offer a bailout package to restart the businesses who pledge to net-zero future but also prioritise investments in green infrastructure including incentivised electric cars and charging stations, more and safer cycling and walking routes and energy generation from renewable sources.


The UK should also send a green recovery message to the US, China and the rest of the world ahead of UN Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC COP 27) now due to be held next year.


References – External links



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