The coronavirus pandemic has led to the largest drop in greenhouse emissions in human history

The Bayswater coal-fired power station in the NSW Hunter Valley region. Source: AAP

Global greenhouse gas emissions fell by five per cent as the tourism and aviation industries were shut down by the virus.

The coronavirus pandemic has led to the largest-ever drop in greenhouse emissions, but also led to the loss of 150 million jobs worldwide. 

The study, published in the international scientific journal PLOS ONE, examined how the global economic and environmental impacts of the pandemic are closely linked.

The international group of researchers, including those at the University of Sydney, used live data, rather than projections, to study the combined impact of the pandemic on the economy and the environment. 

It found global greenhouse gas emissions fell by 2.5 gigatons during the early months of the pandemic.

The drop of 4.6 per cent is the largest ever recorded in human history, dating back past the Industrial Revolution.

Emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide - the by-products of burning fossil fuels - and fuel combustion also fell by 5.1 megatons, a drop of 2.9 per cent.

The fall in pollution was driven in part by the global downturn in aviation and tourism, with the pandemic putting more then 4 per cent of the global workforce out of a job. 

Hundreds of aircraft have been grounded due to the downturn caused by COVID-19.
Hundreds of aircraft have been grounded due to the downturn caused by COVID-19.

Worldwide, the equivalent of 147 million full-time jobs have been lost, 4.2 per cent of the global workforce.

Global consumption fell by $5.467 trillion - roughly the size of the entire German economy.

Average wages also fell by a total of more than $3 trillion, around 6 per cent of global income. 

Europe, Asia and the United States were the regions hardest hit, but the flow-on impacts of the pandemic were felt across the rest of the world.

"We are experiencing the worst economic shock since the Great Depression, while at the same time we have experienced the greatest drop in greenhouse gas emissions since the burning of fossil fuels began," said Dr Arunima Malik from the University of Sydney.

"In addition to the sudden drop in climate-change inducing greenhouse gases, prevented deaths from air pollution are of major significance."

But the authors warn those environmental gains are likely to be wiped out as the global economy recovers. 

"The Global Financial Crisis led to only a small dent in the continued upward trajectory of global greenhouse gas emissions," the report states.

"While the COVID-19 crisis will leave a larger impression, it will still not be enough to avoid dangerous climate change, and may quickly be erased as we attempt to go back to business as usual."

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