Climate experts estimate manmade carbon emissions might tumble between 4% and 7% this year, but warn that figure could spike as nations slowly lift their coronavirus lockdown measures.

A new study published in Nature Climate Change states daily global CO2 emissions fell by 17% between January and early April this year compared to mean 2019 levels, and researchers point to global stay-at-home orders as a key factor.

Keeping that downturn locked depends on how we work our way out of lockdowns, they state.

“The change for the rest of the year will depend on the duration and extent of the confinement, the time it will take to resume normal activities and the degree to which life will resume its preconfinement course,” the authors state.

The news appears to confirm what had already been speculated – that lockdowns and slowed economic activity would significantly dent our carbon output for 2020.

A reduction in ground transport worldwide has been singled out as the biggest factor in that downturn, accounting for 43% of that emissions reduction. Looks like working from home, and generally smashing the big red “OFF” button on carbon-belching industries, has really made an impact.

via Nature.com

But the folks behind the study were quick to point out that while that downturn is positive, its causes – a world-shaking pandemic, which has upturned lives and livelihoods – is hardly worth celebrating.

Also worrying is the idea that we might snap back into our old patterns once the threat has diminished. Researchers point to the downturn in emissions during the 2008 Global Financial Crisis and how they spiked again in 2009, saying it the “rebound” made it seem “almost as if the crisis had not occurred.”

But not all calamities result in immediate rebounds, they say, pointing to the oil crisis of the 1970s as one event which actually triggered the developments in energy efficiency and alternative power sources.

Whether the global economy will take heed of that precedent (and takes steps to fundamentally restructure our energy infrastructure!) is unclear, but the consequences are all too apparent: the United Nations last year said we need to curtail carbon emissions by 7.6% every year for the next ten years to keep global temperatures from jumping up 1.5 degrees Celcius.

Having a pandemic every year hardly seems like a feasible way to keep emissions down. It’s almost like we might need to reconsider some of the reasons why our emissions got so high in the first place, hey?

Anyway, enough doom from me (for now). You can read the report here.

Image: Smith Collection / Gado / David McNew / Getty Images