New data from the EU's Copernicus atmospheric monitoring service has shown that 245 megatonnes (that's 245 million tonnes or 245 billion kilos) of carbon dioxide (CO2) has been emitted from wildfires in the Arctic from the start of 2020 up until 24 August. In the whole of 2019, total CO2 emissions from the same region were 181 megatonnes, so that's a big increase.
At their peak, which occurred in late July 2020, there were around 600 wildfires burning in the Arctic, compared with 400 in 2019 and the average for 2003 to 2018 of around 100. There has been a heatwave in Siberia this year, with temperatures reaching over 30C in some areas, which is thought to have increased the number and intensity of wildfires in the region.
One of the key concerns is that some of these new wildfires are burning on peat soils, which have locked away carbon for many thousands of years. As the peat burns, this carbon is now being released into the atmosphere.
CO2 from electricity generation falls in UK
Meanwhile, in a piece of good news for the planet, a fall in demand for electricity during the lockdown meant that the UK's carbon emissions from electricity generation fell by over a third during the lockdown.
Over the Spring Bank Holiday weekend, the UK's energy grid created just 21 grams of CO2 emissions per kilowatt hour of electricity generated, thanks to lower demand and an increased use of renewable energy. The UK's average carbon intensity (amount of CO2 produced by generating a kilowatt hour of electricity) for the second quarter of 2020 fell by around a fifth to 153g of CO2 per kilowatt hour. And in May 2020, power generation in the UK went coal-free for a whole month for the first time ever.
The fall in demand has highlighted a new issue for the National Grid, which operates the UK's electricity system. It has had to spend around £100 million per month during the first half of 2020 to pay companies to turn off their generating equipment or charge their batteries while there is more electricity than the grid can use. So as we move more and more towards renewable energies, it is going to be important to ensure that they are flexible and adaptable to changing conditions.