2020 carbon emissions may be 11 percent lower than 2019 according to the Energy Information Agency (EIA). One-word reason: COVID. “EIA expects CO2 emissions in 2020 to fall by 19percent for coal, by 13 percent for petroleum, and by 2 percent for natural gas. Many of this year’s changes in energy-related CO2 emissions are attributable to the economic and behavioral effects the COVID-19 pandemic has had on energy consumption.”

Lower energy consumption overall, and in some areas, it is astounding.

The work-from-home, stay-at-home measures, limited business operating hours, and vastly reduced travel helped reduce emissions to a 30-year low in some areas.  That’s a tough way to get to these numbers. (Our feature image is a Charlotte business parking lot before the pandemic. Full then.)

Check the charts.

This chart breaks down some of the factors behind the numbers. From the EIA report:

Natural gas, which accounted for an estimated 36 percent of U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions in 2020, is consumed in several sectors. The electric power sector consumes the most natural gas of any sector … although electricity consumption declined slightly, the use of natural gas to generate electricity increased.

Coal CO2 emissions this year could reach the lowest annual level (4,597 million metric tons, or 19 percent of the total) in EIA’s annual emissions series that dates back to 1973. In the electric power sector, where most coal is consumed in the United States, coal has lost market share to natural gas and renewables since peaking in 2007.

ECC saved the most dramatic chart for last. Petroleum – and it shows in the chart above and to the left – fell off a cliff. Petroleum accounted for an estimated 45 percent of U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions in 2020, and most of those emissions were from the transportation sector. CO2 emissions from petroleum in the transportation sector fell to 102 million metric tons in April 2020, the lowest monthly level since February 1983.

People can affect the level of carbon emissions when they behave in the same way, as in the pandemic. These dramatic aberrations are likely to return to “normal” it would appear, as the economy may recover from the pandemic.