VT professor: Carbon dioxide emissions lower due to COVID-19, but not enough for substantial change

Social distancing helping drop CO2 levels
Social distancing helping drop CO2 levels

BLACKSBURG, Va. – Experts say the COVID-19 global shutdown has led to a noticeable effect on the environment and carbon dioxide levels, but it may not be enough to have a sustained impact.

Virginia Tech Geosciences professor Brian Romans said carbon dioxide (CO2) levels could drop by 6-7% worldwide if social distancing continues. However, Romans said there’s a chance it could only be a momentary drop in a trend toward higher CO2 levels.

“A 5-6% drop means that there is still a lot of carbon dioxide being emitted, and that accumulates over years and decades," Romans said. "Even with a drop, global temperatures are still expected to rise.”

The United Nations signed the Paris Agreement in 2018 to establish goals for lower carbon dioxide emissions. Romans said the goals established there are an 8% drop in carbon dioxide emissions every year for a decade, which is a long way away from the decrease caused by COVID-19.

However, Romans said there is a chance some nations use the lower emissions levels now as a springboard to substantially turn around their environmental impact.

“Stimulus packages, if they were to include big structural changes in the way our energy system operates; it’s an opportunity to make some of those systemic changes we need to do this,” Romans said.

Romans said this still could be one of the largest isolated decreases of carbon dioxide levels in generations.