climate change

Global Recovery Wipes Out Most of 2020’s Decline in Carbon Emissions

The downside of the boom. Photo: Florian Gaertner/Photothek via Getty Images

Global carbon emissions are on track to surge by nearly 5 percent this year, according to the International Energy Agency’s latest forecast, a rebound that wipes out most of the decline caused last year by the pandemic.

The IEA’s Global Energy Review 2021 predicted that carbon-dioxide emissions will rise to 33 billion tonnes this year, up 1.5 billion tonnes from 2020 levels, the largest single increase in more than a decade, as demand for coal, oil, and gasoline returns to pre-pandemic levels. That would reverse 80 percent of the decline seen in 2020 with emissions rebounding to just below 2019’s peak.

“This is a dire warning that the economic recovery from the COVID crisis is currently anything but sustainable for our climate,” Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director, said in a statement. “Unless governments around the world move rapidly to start cutting emissions, we are likely to face an even worse situation in 2022.”

The IEA’s annual review analyzed the latest national data from around the world, economic growth trends, and new energy projects that are set to come online. It found that use of all fossil fuels will grow “significantly” in 2021 with both coal and gas likely to be in greater demand this year than they were in 2019. Overall energy demand is expected to rise by 4.6 percent in 2021, compared to a fall of 4 percent in 2020 as the pandemic idled large swaths of the global economy.

Coal use is fueling much of this year’s increase, said the IEA, and its expected rise will dwarf the output of renewable energy sources by almost 60 percent. More than 80 percent of the projected growth in coal demand in 2021 is set to come from Asia, led by China. Coal use in the U.S. and the European Union is also projected to increase but will remain well below pre-pandemic levels.

On the plus side, the IAE also reported that renewable-energy use continues to rise with a 3 percent increase in demand in 2020. More than half of the increase in electricity supply this year will be provided by renewables, the report said, with green sources set to make up almost 30 percent of the total. And though China’s coal use prompted a surge in emissions, the country will account for almost half of the increase in renewable-energy use.

The report comes as the White House prepares to host a virtual summit of world leaders on Thursday to discuss stronger action on climate change. The IEA’s Birol said policy-makers should use that “critical moment” to pledge immediate action on how they plan to substantially reduce emissions.

Recovery Wipes Out Most of 2020 Decline in Carbon Emissions