"While the drop in Carbon dioxide emissions is unprecedented, the drop in human activities can not be the answer", says study co-author Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK). "We need structural and transformational changes in our energy production and consumption systems", he said. The biggest drop in emissions during the first half of the year came from ground transportation and aviation.
This spring, governments around the world imposed lockdowns to contain the COVID-19 pandemic which curtailed energy use for industrial production and transport.
To paint this comprehensive and multidimensional picture, the researchers based their estimates on a wide array of data: precise, hourly datasets of electricity power production in 31 countries, daily vehicle traffic in more than 400 cities worldwide, daily global passenger flights, monthly production data for industry in 62 countries as well as fuel consumption data for building emissions in more than 200 countries.
They suggested some fundamental steps that could be taken to "stabilise the global climate" as countries look to recover from the economic shock of the pandemic.
The researchers noted, however, that emissions returned to their usual levels in July 2020, when most countries lifted the restrictions put in place.
With more people working from home, the study showed a perhaps surprising three percent fall in residential emissions - something researchers attributed to an abnormally warm winter leading to lower heating consumption.
In June, the power sector's emissions were only 1.1% lower in 2020 than in 2019, compared to being 9.7% lower in April, according to the analysis.
An worldwide plan to limit global warming outlined in the 2015 Paris climate deal aims to cap temperature rises well below two degrees Celsius compared with pre-industrial levels.
Thus, the authors stress that the only valid strategy to stabilize the climate is a complete overhaul of the industry and commerce sector.
"This is more dramatic than the financial crisis", said Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, director emeritus for the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, and an author of the paper.
The past three years of United Kingdom greenhouse gas emissions, according to a study by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. Instead we need structural and transformational changes in our energy production and consumption systems.