Government policies during the COVID-19 pandemic have drastically altered patterns of energy demand around the world. Many international borders were closed and populations were confined to their homes, which reduced transport and changed consumption patterns. Here we compile government policies and activity data to estimate the decrease in CO2 emissions during forced confinements. Daily global CO2 emissions decreased by –17% (–11 to –25% for ±1σ) by early April 2020 compared with the mean 2019 levels, just under half from changes in surface transport. At their peak, emissions in individual countries decreased by –26% on average. The impact on 2020 annual emissions depends on the duration of the confinement, with a low estimate of –4% (–2 to –7%) if prepandemic conditions return by mid-June, and a high estimate of –7% (–3 to –13%) if some restrictions remain worldwide until the end of 2020. Government actions and economic incentives postcrisis will likely influence the global CO2 emissions path for decades.