SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) — One of the most impressive impacts of the pandemic was a decline in greenhouse gases across the Golden State, according to the California Air Resources Board (CARB).

California’s latest Greenhouse Gas Inventory indicates that in the year 2020 carbon pollution experienced the largest decline since the Great Recession in 2008. In 2020 greenhouse gas emissions in the Golden State fell by 9% to 35.3 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent.

(Photo courtesy of California Air Resources Board)

A spokesperson for CARB tells KRON4 that there are long-term benefits to these reductions. “The emissions reductions noted prior to 2020 are real and verified and help to curb climate change impacts—we won’t have 2021 data verified until late next year, so we can’t say what those will look like, but based on what we saw in late 2020 we do expect an increase in 2021,” CARB’s spokesperson said.

According to CARB, the annual drop in greenhouse gas emissions was also paralleled by a 2.8% drop in California’s gross domestic product (GDP). GDP is a measurement of the total value of goods and services produced by residents during a particular set of time.

To determine how carbon intensive the economy is, CARB measures the greenhouse gas emissions per unit of GDP–this number also fell. According to CARB, this shows that California’s long-term climate programs—which aim to decarbonize industry, energy and transportation—are working.

(Photo courtesy of California Air Resources Board)

The transportation sector saw the biggest drop off in greenhouse gases in 2020, but still remained the dominant source of emissions, accounting for 37% of greenhouse gases in the state of California. CARB attributes the 16% drop in emissions to the shelter-in-place orders that went into effect early in the pandemic. The decline is also credited in part to an 18% growth of electric cars on California roads.

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District says that the growth in remote work that happened due to the pandemic has reduced traffic, “by more than 50% in the Bay Area.” BAAQMD estimated that air pollutant emissions were reduced by as much as 45% in the San Francisco area as well.

Now that the COVID-19 emergency status is being lifted across the United States, BAAQMD says that traffic has been steadily increasing back to pre-pandemic levels. The district suggests that workers consider alternate forms of transportation including public transit.

“We must find alternatives to driving alone to protect our air quality,” a BAAQMD spokesperson told KRON4.