But the IEA warned that the decline in CO2 emissions was not permanent. After previous crises, the rebounds in emissions were larger than the declines. The agency said the world needed a wave of investment to restart the economy with “cleaner and more resilient energy infrastructure.”
The drop in carbon dioxide emissions, which are a leading cause of climate change, “is because of the premature deaths and economic trauma around the world and in my view it is absolutely nothing to cheer,” Fatih Birol, executive director of the IEA, said in an interview. But, he said, from a climate and energy standpoint, “the important thing is what happens next year,” and whether governments and private companies continue to invest in renewable energy.
Some energy and climate experts have expressed surprise that the fall in CO2 emissions has not been even larger given the vast number of people around the world who are staying at home and away from work and other people.
“It’s a sobering reminder of how hard it is to get off of oil and decarbonize the global economy,” said Jason Bordoff, founding director of Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy. “This is the most extreme demand-side response anyone could imagine.”
The IEA report says the curtailment of economic activity pushed down global energy demand by 3.8 percent in the first quarter of the year and is likely to drive down energy use by 6 percent over the entire year, the sharpest drop since the end of World War II.
In the first quarter of 2020, the hardest-hit sector was coal, which fell 8 percent compared to the first quarter last year. That was partly because the coronavirus outbreak first hit China, where more than half of the world’s coal is consumed.
Transportation was also hit hard, as lockdowns drove down gasoline use by 5 percent in the first quarter. Much of that was in the United States. Overall, oil demand in April is estimated to be 29 million barrels a day lower than a year ago, the agency said, falling to a level last seen in 1995. That amounts to about a 30 percent decline. For the entire second quarter, oil demand is expected to be stuck near 23.1 million barrels a day, the IEA said.
Mild weather in the United States contributed to the 18 percent decline in residential and commercial natural gas consumption there.
“We have seen this demand shock, a historic shock to the entire energy world,” Birol said. “This will change how we look at the energy sector completely.”