Early last year, countries began imposing lockdowns to slow the spread of COVID-19. People stopped flying, offices closed, and many factories stopped production. In some places, polluted hazy skies soon cleared, and distant mountains came into view.

“So everyone had a kind of a visceral sense that emissions were down,” says Dan Kammen of the University of California, Berkeley.

Kammen’s team wanted to find out just how much carbon pollution had fallen.

They analyzed data from around the world. They found that during the first half of 2020, emissions were almost nine percent lower on average than in the first half of the prior year.

“What we have seen here is unprecedented, or close to it,” Kammen says.

Some changes might last long-term. For example, some people may keep working from home, so they will drive less.

But Kammen’s research shows that when restrictions eased last summer, emissions began to rise again.

So he says it underscores the need for policy changes and investments in electric vehicles, mass transit, and renewable energy – “so that our post-COVID world is greener than our pre-COVID one,” he says.

A greener world, that is, … without the personal and economic hardships that come with lockdowns.

Reporting credit: Sarah Kennedy/ChavoBart Digital Media.