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After a Century of Growth, Have Carbon Emissions Reached Their Peak?

In late March, approximately a third of the world’s population found themselves under some kind of stay-at-home order due to COVID-19. The effects were dramatic: Virtually overnight, bumper-to-bumper traffic gave way to empty roads; bustling airports became echoing ghost towns; retail stores and restaurants closed their doors and turned off the lights. And some started wondering whether the coronavirus pandemic — and the abrupt halt in all those normal, fossil fuel–burning activities of life — would have a lasting effect on the overheating planet.

Now, as 2020 draws to a close, scientists have an answer — of a sort. According to the latest data from the Global Carbon Project, worldwide carbon dioxide emissions declined by around 7 percent this year, or 2.4 billion metric tons. That’s roughly equivalent to all of India’s CO2 emissionsin a normal year, and is the biggest absolute drop in emissions ever.

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