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EGEB: COVID causes record global emissions drop in 2020

In today’s Electrek Green Energy Brief (EGEB):

  • Global emissions are expected to drop around 2.4 billion tonnes in 2020 (7%), a record.
  • Amazon declares that it’s now the largest corporate purchaser of green energy in the world.
  • UnderstandSolar is a free service that links you to top-rated solar installers in your region for personalized solar estimates. Tesla now offers price matching, so it’s important to shop for the best quotes. Click here to learn more and get your quotes. — *ad.

2020 emissions drop

Future Earth’s Global Carbon Project released this year’s Global Carbon Budget, which comes ahead of the fifth anniversary of the Paris Agreement.

The worldwide COVID-19 lockdowns caused global emissions to drop by around 2.4 billion tonnes in 2020, or 7% lower than in 2019, which is unprecedented.

Transport emissions make up the largest share of the global decrease. Those from surface transport, such as cars, fell by around half during peak lockdown. By December 2020, emissions from road transport and aviation were still below their 2019 levels by approximately 10% and 40%, respectively, due to continuing restrictions. 

In a sampling of individual countries, emissions reduced as follows:

  • United States: -12%
  • EU countries: -11%
  • UK: -13%
  • India: -9%
  • China: -1.7%

Restrictions in China were put in place in early 2020 and were shorter, giving the economy more time to recover. Globally, the peak of the emissions decrease in 2020 occurred in the first half of April, when lockdown measures were at their maximum, particularly across Europe and the US. 

Researchers say it’s too early to say how much emissions will rebound during 2021 and in the future, as that will depend on actions to stimulate the global economy in response to the pandemic. 

covid global emissions

Lead researcher Prof Pierre Friedlingstein, of the University of Exeter, said:

Although global  emissions were not as high as last year, they still amounted to about 39 billion tonnes of CO2, and inevitably led to a further increase in CO2 in the atmosphere. The atmospheric CO2  level, and consequently, the world’s climate, will only stabilize when global CO2 emissions are  near zero.

Josh Tewksbury, interim executive director at Future Earth, said:

Given that we need to reduce global emissions by more than 7% year over year through 2030,  this analysis shows that social responses alone will not drive the sustained reductions needed to effectively combat climate change.

Alongside energy transformations, smart policy in areas like emissions-free transportation and the future of work may help lock in these observed reductions.

Amazon’s green energy push

Amazon has announced that it has invested in an additional 3.4 GW of green energy, and declared that it’s now the largest corporate purchaser of renewables in the world.

GreenTech Media notes, “Amazon’s renewable energy investments are a mixture of power-purchase agreements, new-build utility-scale projects, on-site installations, and participation in renewable certificate and guarantee programs.”

Its total investment in green energy in 2020 is 35 projects and more than 4 GW of capacity — the largest corporate investment in green energy in a single year. 

The addition of 26 new utility-scale wind and solar projects in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, South Africa, Sweden, the UK, and the US bring Amazon’s total number of green energy projects to 127. Its energy investments to date will supply 6.5 GW of wind and solar capacity — enough to power 1.7 million US homes for one year.

In the US, Amazon has now enabled wind and solar projects in California, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, and Virginia. 

The projects will supply green energy for Amazon’s corporate offices, fulfillment centers, and Amazon Web Services data centers.

Amazon has declared a commitment to carbon neutrality by 2040 and 100% green energy by 2030.

Last year, Amazon and Global Optimism cofounded The Climate Pledge, a commitment to reach the Paris Agreement 10 years early and be net-zero carbon by 2040. The pledge now has 31 signatories, including Unilever, Verizon, Siemens, Microsoft, and Best Buy. 

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Avatar for Michelle Lewis Michelle Lewis

Michelle Lewis is a writer and editor on Electrek and an editor on DroneDJ, 9to5Mac, and 9to5Google. She lives in St. Petersburg, Florida. She has previously worked for Fast Company, the Guardian, News Deeply, Time, and others. Message Michelle on Twitter or at Check out her personal blog.