COVID-19: Rapid detection of the impact of COVID-19 on UK greenhouse gas emissions

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol
Department Name: Chemistry


The nationwide restrictions on social interaction brought about by the COVID-19 outbreak have the potential to dramatically change the UK's greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. However, given the lack of precedent, it is difficult to predict the sign, magnitude, or spatial and temporal change that may occur. Atmospheric GHG observations are sensitive to emissions changes over very short timescales (hours to days), and therefore "top-down" (atmospheric data-based) inference of GHG emissions has the potential to provide rapid updates to climate researchers, the public and stakeholders (e.g. BEIS and the UK's GHG inventory compilers). There have already been reports of reductions in atmospheric concentrations of GHGs and air pollutants in the media from across the world. However, these reports have sometimes lacked scientific rigour, ignoring the critical influence of meteorology and seasonality. Here, we aim to use data from the UK's unique GHG measurement network (the UK DECC network) and adapt our atmospheric modelling and statistical inference frameworks to provide robust information on any rapid changes in UK GHG emissions that occur during the period of COVID-19-related restrictions. Conversely, the change in anthropogenic activity provides an unprecedented opportunity to test top-down (atmospheric data-based) emissions inference frameworks, such as those used to report UK GHG emissions to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).


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Description We found that the UK's methane emissions were not impacted by Covid-19 related lockdowns (Lunt et al., 2021). Emissions for 2020 were found to be broadly in line with the generally declining trend in methane emissions from the UK over the last decade. Therefore, it appears that methane emissions are not sensitive to a major slowdown in economic activity. This finding is important in planning our path to net-zero.
Exploitation Route The outcomes of this project have important outcomes for those examining GHG emissions reductions in the UK in the future.
Sectors Environment

Description The advances in this grant contributed to the presentation of a live data dashboard during COP26 in Glasgow. The dashboard showed how GHG measurements could be used to evaluate emissions at urban and national scales This activity was accompanied by an article in The Conversation outlining the need for these methods:
First Year Of Impact 2021
Sector Environment
Impact Types Policy & public services

Title OpenGHG 
Description A toolkit for greenhouse gas data analysis 
Type Of Technology Software 
Year Produced 2022 
Open Source License? Yes  
Impact Software is being used to evaluate the UK's greenhouse gas emissions