Socio-economic, environmental impacts of COVID-19 quantified

Holistic study charts effects of the coronavirus on sectors and regions globally

University of Sydney

Global impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic broken down by world region. view more  Credit: University of Sydney

The first comprehensive study of the pandemic shows consumption losses amount to more than US$3.8 trillion, triggering full-time equivalent job losses of 147 million and the biggest-ever drop in greenhouse gas emissions.

The international group of researchers, using a global and highly detailed model, found that most directly hit was the travel sector and regions of Asia, Europe, the United States, with cascading multiplier effects across the entire world economy because of globalisation.

The loss of connectivity imposed to prevent the virus spreading triggers an economic ‘contagion’, causing major disruptions to trade, tourism, energy and finance sectors, while easing environmental pressures most in some of the hardest-hit areas.

This study focuses on ‘live’ data to 22 May (with the exception of air travel, for which only a 12-month forecast exists), differing from most assessments of the economic impacts of the pandemic based on scenario analyses and/or projections – and it is the first to provide an overview of the combined economic, social and environmental impacts, including indirect effects, of the coronavirus.

The findings publish today in the international scientific journal PLOS ONE.


– Consumption: US$3.8 trillion (4.2 percent ~ GDP of Germany)

– Jobs: 147m (4.2 percent of the global workforce)

– Income from wages and salaries: $2.1 trillion (6 percent)

– Most directly hit: US, China (mainland), air transport and related tourism

– Greenhouse gas emissions: 2.5Gt (4.6 percent) – larger than any drop in human history*

– Other atmospheric emissions – PM2.5: Dangerously fine particulate matter emissions fall 0.6 Mt (3.8 percent); SO2 & NOx: Sulfur dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels – which has been linked to asthma and chest tightness – and emissions from nitrogen oxide – from fuel combustion, for example, driving cars – fall 5.1 Mt (2.9 percent).

Corresponding author Dr Arunima Malik, from Integrated Sustainability Analysis (ISA) and University of Sydney Business School, said the experience of previous financial shocks showed that, without structural change, environmental gains were unlikely to be sustained during economic recovery.

“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,” Dr Malik said.

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

“The contrast between the socio-economic and the environmental variables reveals the dilemma of the global socio-economic system – our study highlights the interconnected nature of international supply chains, with observable global spillover effects across a range of industry sectors, such as manufacturing, tourism and transport.”

The University of Sydney Vice-Chancellor Dr Michael Spence said it was wonderful to see significant applications come to life through a collaborative platform seeded a decade ago with University of Sydney funding.

“Thanks to pioneering work here at Sydney in collaboration with other world leaders in footprinting, it’s now possible to simulate the world economy quickly and accurately to see how society and the environment are impacted by changes in our consumption,” Dr Spence said.

“This research was conducted in the cloud-based Global MRIO Lab and it is these sorts of global, multidisciplinary collaborations that will help us tackle the complex issues of our time.”


To chart the world economy and post-disaster impacts using global multi-regional input-output (MRIO) analysis or GMRIO, researchers worked in the open-source Global MRIO Lab. This customisable database is an extension of the Australian Industrial Ecology Lab (IE Lab) led by the University of Sydney.

The advancement of GMRIO has underpinned the increasing popularity and uptake of so-called consumption-based accounting, or footprinting, which avoids loopholes such as ‘carbon leakage’ where pollution is externalised to the producers, rather than consumers of goods and services. The Global MRIO Lab includes data from statistical agencies, including National Accounts and Eurostat and international trade data such as UN Comtrade. The lab is powered by supercomputers calculating the impacts of international trade along billions of supply chains extending to 221 countries.

Input-output (I-O) models were developed in the 1930s by Nobel Prize Laureate Wassily Leontief to analyse the relationships between consumption and production in the economy; I-O or multi-regional input-output (MRIO) models take account of actual data, from I-O records worldwide. Global MRIO or GMRIO models now not only extend to global value chains (GVCs) incorporating all orders of production but are also able to answer flexible and complex questions to a high degree of accuracy within a relatively short time lag. Once assembled, tables can be quickly updated, limited only by the timeliness of the data to hand.

Lead author Professor Manfred Lenzen, also from ISA and a recent co-author of the “Scientists’ warning on affluence“, said that the Australian-funded and University of Sydney-led innovation of the IO Labs had really catalysed new research efficiency in Australia. “Whilst the Labs were initially developed by a dedicated team from eight Universities and the CSIRO, supported by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, there are now hundreds of users, answering questions ranging from building sustainable cities, avoiding food waste, and carbon-footprinting tourism, to hedging against major disasters such as tropical cyclones,” said Professor Lenzen.

For this study into COVID-19, 38 regions in the world were analysed and 26 sectors. In order to incorporate as much information as possible, co-authors were allocated countries with which they had language skills and familiarity, with data translated from sources in 12 languages ranging from Arabic to Hindi and Spanish.

The international team of researchers are from: University of Sydney; Edinburgh Napier University; University of Queensland; UNSW Sydney; Ministry of Finance of the Republic of Indonesia; National Institute for Environmental Studies & Research Institute for Humanity and Nature, Japan; Yachay Tech University, Ecuador; Duke University; Beijing Normal University.

* Previous significant drops in greenhouse gas emissions were during the global financial crisis in 2009 (0.46Gt) and as a result of land-use changes (under the Kyoto Protocol) in 1998 (2.02Gt).


From EurekAlert!

30 thoughts on “Socio-economic, environmental impacts of COVID-19 quantified

  1. A lot of data here, with only a moderate level of probable accuracy (my interpretation). When does the largest drop in CO2 show up in data from Mauna Loa? The economic damage is considerable, but the economic condition of the “Region” before the quarantine/lockdown/disruption began is important and does not appear to be included. Here in Argentina, Mendoza Province, we were in three consecutive years of recession, now we are two-thirds through a cold spell which sees two months of freezing every night, and 90% of households cannot pay every utility bill every month, so guess if Argentina or the USA handles the impact better? This cold spell in Argentina appears to be related to ENSO in the neutral zone, which slows latitude winds and limits protection against polar cold outbreaks. For the southern hemisphere El Niño is a good boy, la Niña is OK, and neutral is a problem. Stay sane and safe.

    • Nature emits roughly 30 times more CO2 than do humans. So if human emissions fell to zero, total emissions would fall by only around 3%.
      The pandemic has probably caused an overall global drop in emissions of a fraction of one percent. I doubt if such a small drop would be measurable.

      • no not true at all
        If i have a leaky bath leaking at a rate of 100ml per hour and i have a leaky tap filling it at 101ml per hour it will fill up and overflow
        if the leaky tap drips at 99 ml / hour then the bath will empty.
        The bath level will not change by +-1% as you suggest

        • no not true at all

          your leaky bath needs multiple input sources and multiple leaks. ALSO, it should be noted that the leaky bath has a volume of 100,000 ml, so the change of 1 ml in an hour from just one of the required multiple sources represents only 0.001% change.

    • I don’t expect much from a group which represents the USA by Spokane, Washington and Australia by Alice Springs, NT on their map.

  2. Despite the largest drop in human-sourced CO2 emissions in history, there has been no discernable drop in the data from Mauna Loa. Can it be that human-sourced CO2 emissions are irrelevant to CO2 levels?

    • Perhaps the advocates for recognition of a climate “crisis” (or “apocalypse ” if you are a Guardian reader), caused by increased CO2 levels could respond to Nicholas’s question , which puts in words what many of us are thinking: how long to wait until the drop in emissions appears as a reduction in the rate of increase , or even a decrease, in the CO2 global levels? Should it be apparent immediately or is there a lag which can be explained by well understood models that attempt to compare emission and absorption rates. Please no hand waving , real equations or links to same, some of us have PhDs in physical chemistry and imbibed Henry’s law with our mother’s milk (almost).
      For the UK resident this is an important question . The Govt is determined to eliminate UK’s contribution to CO2 emissions , which currently is responsible for 1-2% of the latter. If 4% reduction (OK only temporary) does not affect CO2 levels , why the heck are we destroying the economy , lives and jobs of UK citizens?

      • NOAA has published the following question on its webpage dealing with the atmospheric carbon dioxide measured at Mauna Loa Observatory, and has provided a simple-minded answer to the continuing increase in atmospheric CO2 intended to be understood even by the most simpleminded.
        “We frequently are asked this question: CO2 emissions from the burning of fossil fuels are lower because of the pandemic, so why is atmospheric CO2 not also going down?”
        Here are some examples of NOAA’s understanding of the carbon cycle.
        “… atmospheric CO2 can dissolve in water and it can be turned through photosynthesis in plants into wood and other organic matter … these transfers are not permanent because the carbon can, and in fact does, come back again as CO2.” This is misleading because the scale of ocean absorption is vast and is not balanced by a commensurate out-gassing – a constant rain of carbon falls to the sea-bed and stays there for millions of years. Equally, carbon absorbed by e.g. trees does not “come back again” on time-scales longer then the immediate that would be required to support NOAA’s argument.
        The misleading argument continues with claims that the oceans’ CO2 budget is in equilibrium and that, in plants and soils a steady state develops in which the rate of photosynthesis equals the rate of oxidation of carbon back to CO2.
        Humans, we are told, exhale in our breath high levels of CO2 but this is not qualified or stated in ways that would clarify the relative importance of human breath. Thankfully, NOAA does not say how the CO2 contribution from human breath could be reduced.
        “The atmosphere, oceans, and terrestrial biosphere act like one interconnected reservoir from which the carbon does not disappear in any practical sense. Only rock weathering and formation can, but those are tiny trickles in comparison. Therefore, CO2 from fossil fuel burning can only increase the total carbon amount in this reservoir”. This is a badly composed statement as it is not clear what “rock weathering and formation” is being credited with doing. The carbon sequestered in the earth’s rocks does not “disappear”, it remains highly visible in e.g. the earth’s vast karst landscapes that develop and erode over timescales of millions of years.
        There’s more of that, but the general impression created by NOAA’s statement is that it cannot say or does not wish to say why atmospheric CO2 levels continue to rise despite the reduction in anthropogenic CO2 emissions arising from the Covid crisis.

    • The goal posts are being dug up and moved as we speak. The new reality will be it will take (insert fictitious number here) years of sustained co2 reductions to stave off AGW.

  3. This Is the world that the greens want us to live in.

    Mind you they will have to have a a much higher standard of living as they need to work so hard to still save the planet.


    • In this new “reality”, no one has to work, other than the person holding the handle on the mimeograph machine that turns out more money with every crank.
      The rest of us?…relax, take it easy…

  4. liked for the effor to report.
    Not the content
    more aussie$ wasted on csiro and nsw unis
    for crap we dont need to know, thats got no use ,
    unless you believe in the warmists agenda
    but they feel so “important” and smug they reckon its worth it.

    as for weather neutrals ok avg rain
    Minus side la nina is a dream and elnino is a bummer for dry n drough
    annoyds to see Enso slipped from the beg side back to neutral again;-(
    give that meter a sharp kick please;-)

  5. – [ ] Can we be sure that many of the deaths were not iatrogenic, created by the medical treatment? It is estimated that 700 000 die each year from medical errors in the US In principle it could be possible that all covid victims are results of medical errors. Why are the industrialized countries hit so much worse than the third world? The intubation catastrophe is an example of this. Sending covid patients to nursing homes was a bad medical decision. It would be strange if Como took this decision without asking for medical advice.
    When we see the massive resistance against hxq, and the fraud used to stop trials, we may wonder how many other medical mistakes are behind the death numbers.

    If lives are precious enough for trillions if dollars spent to save a few thousand lives, how about other lives that could be saved. Traffic accidents and smoking come to mind.
    Smoking could be prohibited with heavy fines and forced containment.

    Tobacco kills more than 8 million people each year. More than 7 million of those deaths are the result of direct tobacco use.

    • “In principle it could be possible that all covid victims are results of medical errors. ”

      A compelling case can certainly be made that many to most deaths were anthropogenic due to policy decisions that decimated nursing homes and normalized rushed intubation that creates the very disease it is used to treat. The latter is contrary to sound medical practice, but for some reason it started in China, and then spread throughout the world. If astute doctors in Italy, Germany and the US (among other places, I’m sure) hadn’t raised the alarm that ventilators were k!illing people unnecessarily, which caused reduction in their use, the death toll would certainly be much higher.

      Meanwhile the virus has never been isolated, nor proven to cause disease.

  6. Drops in human emissions but no affect on CO2 levels or “warming?” How many ways does the hypothesis need to be invalidated before people start to realize it’s nonsense?

      • It’s a faith, a trust, a belief. It’s also a religion, a behavioral protocol, a moral (“ethical”) order. Dictated by philosophers, mortal gods and goddesses. The oldest of its kind: secular, with tangible incentives to conform and punishments when you deviate from the ordained standards.

    • Jeffery P
      “Drops in human emissions but no affect on CO2 levels or “warming?” How many ways does the hypothesis need to be invalidated before people start to realize it’s nonsense?”
      Oh so you thought we would see an immediate drop in temperatures. Really? I think you will find it is a bit more complex than that.

      • “Simon July 10, 2020 at 12:33 pm

        I think you will find it is a bit more complex than that.”

        So when it’s flat or cooling it’s “a bit more complex”. But when it’s warming it is proven?

        • Patrick MJD
          “So when it’s flat or cooling it’s “a bit more complex”. But when it’s warming it is proven?”
          Well not really, but if that helps you delude yourself then who am I to stop you?

  7. There is nothing unique or game-changing about IO models, which needn’t be attributed to some scientist from the 1930s. Any thoughtful person, regardless of profession or position, naturally and logically arrives at his own working IO model of a sort. That’s why he can call this academic exercise “nonsense.” Anyone who has been sentient and awake over the last six months knows that COVID and the response to the virus has been a major, disruptive event, and that any numbers hung on it are a SWAG. Of course, whatever university writes the press release will spin it into something fantastic and “first ever.”

    Given their bent and their lens, they make make much of the environmental impacts (benefits?). Even by their calculations, the environmental impacts/benefits are negligible. A paltry 3 to 4% improvement in air that is already clean (with notable localized exceptions such as Chinese cities) will have nominal benefit in contrast to the vast suffering in economic displacement, illness and arguably excess deaths. The glaring lesson is that this suffering and even greater and loss of freedom are what is in store for the world if we continue to follow the activist path to the so-called “green new deal” and “carbon(?) neutrality.”

    Notice the subtle inclusion of “economic, social and environmental impacts”, which is code for globalist “sustainability” (AKA, UN-style, SJW chicken-little fear-mongering I n order to grab power). As integral as environment is, it is the tail on the dog. It follows, not leads, and it doesn’t control from behind. This is a war of world views, and COVID is but one battle and the environment is but one front in the war.

  8. oh please….so the biggest ever drop in emissions…..and no one can measure it

    they just said there’s absolutely nothing we can do about it… stop the game

  9. “it’s now possible to simulate the world economy quickly and accurately”

    Really? Has anyone told Goldman Sachs? Say farewell to “Boom and Bust”. No more unforeseen recessions or inflationary runaways. A miracle! Financial markets will be delighted !

  10. “Incidentally, the drop of approximately 4.5% in global GHG emissions caused by reactions to COVID-19 still falls short of what would be needed every year until 2050 to limit global warming to 1.5ºC.” Directly from the paper says it all… do we really want this kind of a global economy for the next 50 years to hypothetically limit the planet to a 1.5ºC increase in average temperature? At least they put the timeline so far out that my neurological connections won’t recall the statement anymore if I still have a physical presence here.

    • Mr. Rooster,
      Your statement is so ignorant and absurd that if falls into the category of “more than just wrong”.

    • As the coronavirus is alleged to have come from bats, it did cross my mind that this is their revenge for all those bat-chomping whirlygigs that have been erected everywhere.

    • Considering it was genetically created in a chinese lab I can’t see the connection

  11. Anthony.
    Why are you publishing clear nonsense that no one is refuting others through comments.

    Most ,like co2 reports , are so unreal an already proven to be spurious.

    What for?

Comments are closed.