COVID-19: A Blessing or A Curse

The impact of COVID-19 on human activities, not to mention on human lives, is turning out to be a positive sway for plummeting the consumption of energy around the world which in turn helps diminish global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.


After weeks of governments prevaricating over whether to ban mass gatherings, close businesses or seal borders, restrictions came in a flurry, and they announced the world wide lockdowns around the world.

There are virtually no people on the streets, vehicles on the road, planes in the sky, or industries at work. “I think a lot people are finding it kind of weird to be where it’s so quiet all of a sudden, which is a good thing,” said UNCC geologist and Associate Professor of geology Dr. Andy Bobyarchik. “It makes us appreciate the natural world.” And it changed everything which effected the consumption of global energy.

Global Energy Review 2020, published in April 2020, by International Energy Agency which deals with the impacts of the COVID-19 on global energy demand and CO2 emissions.

Daily data collected for 30 countries until 14 April 2020, representing over two-thirds of global energy demand, show that demand depression depends on duration and stringency of lockdowns.  For instance:  Countries in full lockdown are experiencing an average 25 percent decline in energy demand per week whereas countries in partial lockdown an average 18 percent decline.  

Nevertheless, global energy demand declined by 3.8 percent in the first quarter of 2020, with most of the impact felt in March as confinement measures were enforced in Europe, North America and elsewhere. Here is the global impact of COVID-19 on the following:

  • Coal: Demand for global coal was hit the hardest, falling by almost 8 percent compared with the first quarter of 2019. Three reasons converged to explain this drop: a. The People’s Republic of China – a coal-based economy – was the country the hardest hit by Covid-19 in the first quarter; b. Cheap gas and continued growth in renewables elsewhere challenged coal; and c. Mild weather also capped coal use.
  • Oil: Demand for oil was also hit strongly, downstrongly, down nearly 5 percent in the first quarter, mostly by curtailment in mobility and aviation, which account for nearly 60 percent of global oil demand. By the end of March, global road transport activity was almost 50 percent below the 2019 average and aviation 60 percent below.
  • Gas: The impact of the pandemic on gas demand was more moderate, at around 2 percent, as gas-based economies were not strongly affected in the first quarter of 2020;
  • Renewables: Renewables were the only source that posted a growth in demand, driven by larger installed capacity and priority dispatch; and
  • Electricity:  Demand for electricity has been significantly reduced as a result of lockdown measures, with knock-on effects on the power mix. Electricity demand has been depressed by 20 percent or more during periods of full lockdown in several countries, as upticks for residential demand are far outweighed by reductions in commercial and industrial operations. For weeks, the shape of demand resembled that of a prolonged Sunday. Demand reductions have lifted the share of renewables in the electricity supply, as their output is largely unaffected by demand. Demand fell for all other sources of electricity, including coal, gas and nuclear power.

The current Covid-19 pandemic indeed is above all a global health crisis. The time of this report was published – as of the 28th of April 2020, there were 3 million confirmed cases and over 200 000 deaths due to the illness. As a consequence of the efforts to slow the spread of the virus, the share of energy use that was exposed to containment measures jumped from 5 percent in mid-March to 50 percent in mid-April. Several European countries and the United States have announced that they expect to reopen parts of the economy in May, so April may be the hardest hit month.

Unfortunately, by July 1st, the pandemic’s effects on global emissions diminished as lockdown restrictions relaxed and some economic activities restarted around the globe, especially in China and several European countries, but substantial differences persist between countries, with continuing emission declines in the U.S. where COVID-19 cases are still increasing substantially everyday.


An article, Near-Real-Time Monitoring of Global CO2 Emissions Reveals the Effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, was published on 14 October 2020 by Nature Communications which presented an excellent view of the impact of the reduced consumption of global energy on CO2 emissions.

Here are three graphs (Source: Nature Communications) which reflect “Effects of COVID-19 on CO2 Emissions.”:

  • Daily CO2 Emissions;
  • Daily Emissions Difference; and
  • Annual Changes of CO2
Source: Nature Communications

Here is a brief description on each major source of CO2, highlighting the level of decline in each sector:

  • Power Generation Emissions

In the first half year of 2020, global CO2 emissions from the power sector declined by −5.0 percent (−341.4 Mt CO2), with declines in:

  1. China -1.4 percent (−31.3 Mt CO2);
  2. US -7.6 percent (−66.3 Mt CO2);
  3. India  -12 percent (−83.6 Mt CO2); and
  4. The EU27 & UK -19 percent (−98.5 Mt CO2).

Some of the drop in China’s power sector emissions was due to warmer winter temperatures in 2020.

The negligible differences in emissions during late January and early February of 2020 and 2019 are explained by the different dates of China’s Spring Festival in the two years;

  • Industry and Cement Production Emissions:

Industry emissions from steel, chemicals and other manufactured products from fossil fuel combustion and the cement production process represent on average 29 percent of the global CO2 emissions during a normal year, with a much larger share of national emissions in developing countries, e.g., 39 and 33 percent in China and India.  In this study, only emissions from direct fuel consumption and chemical process emissions by the industry sector were considered whereas electricity-related emissions for industry are counted with the power generation sector. In the first half year of 2020, industry emissions fell by −5.5 percent globally;

  • Ground Transportation Emissions:

Ground transportation represents 18 percent of global CO2 emissions in recent years. Using TomTom congestion level with daily transportation activity data for 416 global cities in 57 countries, it was estimated that, in the first half year of 2020 ground transportation emissions decreased by −18.6 percent (−613.3 Mt CO2), and −17.8 percent (−685.5 Mt CO2) in the first 7 months of 2020;

  • Aviation and Shipping Emissions:

Emissions from global aviation decreased by −43.9 percent (−200.8 Mt CO2) and −46.7 percent (254.5 MT CO2) during the first half year and the first 7 months of 2020 respectively, of which roughly 70 percent of the drop was related to international flights.  Decreases in emissions from international flights are included in the global estimates, but only domestic flight emissions were attributed to different countries, based on the departure and arrival country for each flight. The total number of flights and global aviation emissions show two big decreases, one in Asia near the end of January and another coincident with travel bans and lockdown measures in the rest of the world that began in the middle of March. Global aviation emissions began rebounding somewhat in late April and have slightly and gradually increased throughout the end of July. However, international flight emissions in July 2020 were still 72.0 percent lower than the emissions in July 2019. Emissions from international shipping were 25percent lower in the first half year of 2020 than over the same period in 2019; and

  • Commercial and Residential Buildings Emissions:

Due to COVID-19 pandemic, more people stayed at home.  Analysis included changes of emissions from residential fuel use, while the change in electricity consumption by households and commercial/ public buildings was counted as part of the power sector emissions. Obtaining daily emissions from this sector is more uncertain than from other sectors, given that daily residential natural gas consumption data is not available for all countries.  They looked at publicly available natural gas daily consumption data by residential and commercial buildings for France during 2019 and 2020 as a case study to show the change in residential natural gas consumption. In this country, residential emissions did not change from other factors than heating degree day’s variations in 2020, even though most people were confined at home.

Here are a couple of graphs (Source: Nature Communications):

a. Sector-specific effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on CO2 emissions globally, shown as the 7-day running mean of daily differences between January 1st and June 30th of 2019 and 2020; and

b. The cumulative decline by sectors in each of China, India, U.S., and EU27 & UK in the first half year of 2020.

Source: Nature Communications


The key result of the findings is an abrupt 8.8 percent decrease in global CO2 emissions (−1551 Mt CO2) in the first half of 2020 compared to the same period in 2019. The magnitude of this decrease is larger than during previous economic downturns or World War II. The timing of emissions decreases corresponds to lockdown measures in each country. 

The bottom-line is that the pandemic of COVID-19 is indeed a curse for those who died and continue to die as a result of this pandemic and for those who are still suffering and going through an agonizing time in their lives.  At the same time, even though it is transitory, it is proven to be a blessing for the people who believe in climate change as this pandemic was instrumental in curbing mammoth amount of CO2 emissions around the world in a short period of time.  

The reality is that CO2 levels dramatically increase pollution levels and related diseases, cause extreme weather events including deadly heat waves, and broaden the ranges of disease-carrying creatures like mosquitoes and ticks.

CO2 has long contributed to controlling the Earth’s climate, and its rising concentration in the atmosphere and oceans and it is a major threat to humanity.  In other words, it is a greenhouse gas (GHG) and it is a most significant driver of observed climate change.  Here are some key facts about climate change articulated by the World Health Organization (WHO):

  •  Climate change affects the social and environmental determinants of health – clean air, safe drinking water, sufficient food and secure shelter;
  • Between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250 000 additional deaths per year, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea and heat stress;
  • The direct damage costs to health (i.e. excluding costs in health-determining sectors such as agriculture and water and sanitation), is estimated to be between USD 2-4 billion/year by 2030;
  • Areas with weak health infrastructure – mostly in developing countries – will be the least able to cope without assistance to prepare and respond; and
  • Reducing emissions of greenhouse gases through better transport, food and energy-use choices can result in improved health, particularly through reduced air pollution.

Kanata, Ontario, Canada 29 October 2020