The ‘carbon savings’ attributed to the COVID-19 lockdown measures have been halved within the last few weeks as people return to work.
New data shows that emissions from the transport and energy industries have increased within the last month, with growing demand for fossil fuels following record lows back in April when the lockdown measures were at their tightest.
Analysis carried out by Sia Partners show a 36% fall in the UK’s carbon emissions within the first four weeks of the coronavirus lockdown, in comparison to levels seen in 2018 when official data was last collected.
However, emissions rose by June to just a 16% fall as the demand for fuel began to increase as cars returned to the roads.
Senior manager at Sia Partners, Chloé Depigny, said that the figures showed just how insubstantial the UK’s carbon savings were in the short-term as a result of COVID-19, and that there needed to be greater changes to the economy if the UK is to meet its net-zero target by 2050.
“In order to meet the UK’s net zero target by 2050 the UK needs to cut 12 megatonnes of CO2 every year – this is the equivalent of 3% of the emissions in 2018. So 10% is definitely a significant fall,” said Depigny.
“However, from a climate point of view if this only occurs in 2020 and normal emissions return in 2021 then these savings will mean only a very small dent to emissions in the end. We saw this in the 2008 financial crisis; emissions very quickly returned to pre-crisis levels.”
People choosing to forgo public transport in favour of road travel in a bid to avoid contact with coronavirus is one of the biggest factors that may negatively affect the UK’s carbon savings this year.
“This is one of the big uncertainties as we emerge from lockdown,” said Depigny. “If everyone is concerned about using public transport, and chooses to switch to using cars, then road emissions may well explode over the second half of the year, and could cause even a 10% emissions cut to disappear within a few months.”
Another factor that could affect carbon emissions is the number of people who decide to continue working from home in the colder months of the year. Depigny said that a 6% rise in the carbon footprint for British homes is expected, however, a second lockdown would result in far more carbon emissions from homes than currently predicted.
“We have been lucky that lockdown has happened during warm summer months,” said Depigny. “If there was a second lockdown during the winter, homes would rely on gas-heating to keep their homes warm all day, which would produce far more emissions than during the summer. It would probably counter most of the savings from less commuting.”
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