COVID-19 Mitigation Efforts Could Put U.S. on Track to Meet Paris Climate Accord Goals



By Kat Kerli
originally published by UC Davis News

Americans drove drastically less, saved millions of metric tons of greenhouse gases, and, in some states, lost millions in fuel-tax revenue since COVID-19 mitigation efforts took effect in early March. That is according to the latest special report from the Road Ecology Center at the University of California, Davis.

“Although there are economic downsides to our new normal of reduced driving, there are silver, and even ‘gold and green’ linings that we can be thankful for, including less greenhouse gases, less money spent on gas, and fewer injuries and deaths from crashes,” said Road Ecology Center director and project lead author Fraser Shilling.

The report, “Impact of COVID19 Mitigation on Traffic, Fuel Use and Climate Change” is available on the UC Davis Road Ecology Center website.

Billions of miles of roads less traveled

Using data from, the researchers estimated changes in daily vehicle miles traveled across the U.S. before and after government shelter-in-place guidance. The difference amounted to a drop from 103 billion miles in early March to 29 billion miles during the second week of April. All states reduced their vehicle miles traveled by at least 60 percent.

The report recognized a correlation between the number of COVID-19 cases in a state and its traffic reductions. The higher the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths reported in a state, the fewer miles driven there. New York carried the highest rate of cases during the reporting period. Drivers there and in the surrounding states of New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont drove at least 80 percent fewer miles after shelter-in-place directives began. Nearby Washington D.C. saw the greatest drop of 90 percent fewer daily vehicle miles traveled.

graph of covid-19 cases and traffic reductions in U.S.

The higher the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths reported in a state, the fewer miles driven there. (UC Davis Road Ecology Center)

Fuel saved, tax revenue lost

Fuel use dropped from 4.6 billion gallons in early March to 1.3 billion gallons during the second week of April, saving U.S. drivers $8.6 billion per week. It also resulted in fuel-tax revenue reductions, which vary by state.

In California, where vehicle miles dropped more than 75 percent, the state’s fuel-tax revenue under Senate Bill 1 (2017) also plummeted from $61 million in early March to $15 million for the second week of April. For an eight-week, stay-at-home order, the loss to the state is an estimated $370 million in funds that support highway construction, maintenance and transit improvements aimed at reducing emissions.

Emissions slashed, Paris Climate Accord within view

The drop in fuel use was accompanied by a significant drop in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

During the reporting period, the authors calculated a 71 percent decline in carbon dioxide equivalents from local road travel. This represents a 13 percent decrease in transportation-related annual emissions for 2020 and a 4 percent decrease of total greenhouse gas emissions for 2020 in the nation. That exceeds Paris Climate Accord targets by 3 percent.

GHG transport emissions reductions map during COVID19 shelter-in-place orders.

Greenhouse gas emissions reductions from road transportation were down across the United States from early March to early April 2020. (UC Davis Road Ecology Center)

In California, greenhouse gas emissions from transportation are a greater proportion of total emissions than in the United States as a whole. So the state’s 75 percent reduction in local road travel was an even greater contribution to climate change targets. If traffic remained reduced by 75 percent for a year, the state would be on track to meet half of its 2050 emissions target by 2021.

The study acknowledges that the emissions benefits of stay-at-home orders could go away once normal activity resumes. It concludes with a hopeful note: “It is possible that the U.S. public could embrace the multiple unintended benefits of the pandemic response and retain some level of reduction in harm from travel and economic activity.”

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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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9 thoughts on “COVID-19 Mitigation Efforts Could Put U.S. on Track to Meet Paris Climate Accord Goals”

    1. David Greenwald

      You keeping missing the fact that we are going to have no lives (at lot of us will be dead) or economy if we don’t change things.

        1. David Greenwald

          Okay I have to laugh. Downbeat and negative? It seems like that’s a universal trait. The only question is downbeat and negative about what. The only difference is you’re more worried that we’ll kill the economy than we’ll kill ourselves.

      1. Bill Marshall

        Actually, all massive climate changes in the past have led to evolutionary changes… previous climate changes did indeed kill off the dinosaurs (and their “economy”), but led to new life, new “economies”… and so on… this is not the first “climate change” that has occurred on this orb…

        As I recall from a movie, “life will find a way…”

      2. John Hobbs

        Lol. Why are right-wingers so greedy and narrow minded? Frankly, if you are really worried about the economy you’d be asking what the real rate of infection is in the meat-packing industry, heath care providers and service industry personnel and how the associated illness and deaths will affect production, wages and tax revenues. That of course wuld require truth from Trump and his second line of muted puppets. We may see a big change if Moscow Mitch manages to infect the old farts in the senate and a few of them die as a result.

  1. Bill Marshall

    Brief digression, but somewhat on topic, because given the past few months, where reliable data was scarce, more data is a good thing… here’s one way we can all help…


    Consider sharing this LINK with your friends and family to involve them in this national effort.

    Sign-up took all of 2 minutes… daily updates ~  10 seconds… I’ve been participating for 2 weeks…

    As Rod Serling said, “for your consideration…”


  2. Ron Glick

    Once again everyone is overplaying a position. The pandemic will lead to changes in behavior that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions. On the other hand right now the current velocity of economic activity is depressionary. Advocating that we stay at these levels is as nonsensical as the desire to prematurely relax sheltering in place orders.

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