Carbon dioxide emissions are falling dramatically as a result of stay-at-home orders in countries around the world – but the long-term impacts on the concentrations of CO2 that have accumulated in the atmosphere over decades could be limited, says a Virginia Tech expert.

“Carbon dioxide emissions are decreasing as the global economy contracts in response to stay-at-home orders related to the coronavirus,” said geologist Brian Romans. “It’s too early to tell how significant this decrease will be because it depends on how long the lockdowns will last.”

The analysis by the U.K.-based website Carbon Brief anticipates that 2020 will show the largest annual fall in CO2 emissions ever recorded, approximately 5.5 percent of 2019 global total emissions.

With many industrial, heavily-populated cities in some form of lockdown, current data now suggests that the pandemic could unintentionally reduce emissions by 2,000 metric tons this year from the entire expected output of China, the United States, the European Union, the Indian power sector and the global oil sector, according to Carbon Brief. 

Romans says this reduction in carbon dioxide emissions for 2020 may provide the industrialized world a sense of the scale of the challenge in the face of rising climate change and increasing heat levels.

“A one-time drop in emissions of this amount would not be enough to make progress towards limiting the increase in global temperatures to 1.5 degree Celsius -- 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit -- suggested by the Paris Agreement,” said Romans.

“Ultimately, the economic response to a global pandemic will provide humanity a sense of the magnitude of the energy-carbon-climate challenge we face. Whether or not this will motivate people to advocate for more aggressive emissions-reduction policies remains to be seen.”

Brian Romans is an Associate Professor of Sedimentary Geoscience in the College of Science at Virginia Tech.  

Read his bio here  

Schedule an interview

To secure an interview with Romans contact Bill Foy or Shannon Andrea in the media relations office. Foy can be reached or 540-998-0288, and Andrea can be reached at or 703-399-9494.

Our studio

Finding reliable experts for media interviews is especially important during this difficult time. Virginia Tech's television and radio studios can broadcast live HD audio and video to networks, news outlets, and affiliates interviewing Virginia Tech faculty and staff. The university does not charge for use of its studios. Video is transmitted by LTN Global Communications; Skype, FaceTime, or similar products; or file sharing (Dropbox, Google Drive, We-Transfer, etc.). Radio interviews can be transmitted by ISDN, Comrex, phone, smartphone recording, or file sharing. 

Coronavirus expertise

Virginia Tech experts on a variety of subjects are available for media interviews related to COVID-19


Share this story