• Global energy demand has declined by 3.8% over the first quarter of 2020 due to lockdowns, the IEA finds.
  • For the whole year, the fall could be as much as 6%.
  • Global emissions were down by 5% in the first quarter of 2020.
  • The world could see one of the biggest reductions in CO2 emissions on record.

Major global crises, from the Spanish flu to the 2008 financial crash, have always affected energy demand.

With lockdowns imposed around the globe, it's not surprising that energy demand declined by 3.8% over the first quarter of 2020 as people stayed home and made only essential journeys. At the end of March, road transport was down by 50% and aviation by 60%.

These are the major findings of the International Energy Agency’s Global Energy Review 2020. The report suggests that energy demand could fall by as much as 6% this year compared with 2019, depending on how the global economy recovers.

Reduction of electricity demand after implementing lockdown measures.
A drop in demand.
Image: IEA, April 2020

Electricity and CO2 down, renewables up

Electricity demand was down by around 20% every month where complete lockdowns were in operation, the IEA found. Overall, it saw a 2.5% decrease globally in the first quarter of 2020 compared to the same period last year.

Global CO2 emissions were over 5% lower during Q1 2020 compared with Q1 2019. The IEA forecasts emissions could fall 8% for the whole year - which would see the lowest levels since 2010.

Out of all energy sources, only renewable energy grew. Due to lower electricity demand, power companies have raised the share of wind and solar energy in their energy mix. Over 2020, the IEA expects renewable electricity to increase by nearly 5%.

Global energy-related CO2 emissions, 1900-2020
Annual change in global energy-related CO2 emissions.
Image: IEA, April 2020

An opportunity for change

As good as it sounds, this year's sharp fall in emissions will still get the world nowhere near the Paris Agreement targets, unless it is sustained.

An analysis by Carbon Brief highlights that limiting global warming to 1.5°C would require CO2 emissions to fall consistently by around 7.6% every year this decade.

Meanwhile, one study shows how a sharp decline in CO2 emissions during the financial crisis was followed by a steep increase afterwards.

"At this point, we do not see any clear signs that the pandemic and our societal response to it will lead to significant and permanent changes in the path of future global emissions," Robbie Andrew, a senior researcher at the Centre for International Climate and Environmental Research, told the BBC.

Nevertheless, countries must take the opportunity to make sure they don’t “bounce back” to old ways, but instead take a green approach to economic recovery.