'Dire warning' as global emissions come roaring back to pre-Covid levels

Energy agency forecasts a surge of 1.5 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere in 2021
'Dire warning' as global emissions come roaring back to pre-Covid levels

The world is facing the second-largest increase in carbon dioxide emissions in history, reversing most of the decline brought about by Covid-19 last year - a "dire warning" that must be heeded, a major new report has warned.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) reports forecast a surge of 1.5 billion tonnes in 2021 as the global economy attempts to fast-track its way back following its slump last year.

Global economic output is expected to rebound by 6% in 2021, pushing the global GDP more than 2% higher than 2019 levels, the IEA said.

Carbon emissions dropped by around 6% in 2020, as the world ground to a halt due to Covid induced lockdowns.

Now, 2021 looks set to be the largest annual rise in emissions since 2010, which saw the “carbon-intensive” recovery from the global financial crisis.

Green energy rise

However, renewable sources are also on the rise, with green energy set to supply 30% of electricity this year.

The IEA’s Global Energy Review 2021 estimates that CO2 emissions will increase by almost 5% this year to 33 billion tonnes.

This estimation comes from the evaluation of the latest national data from around the world and analysis of economic growth trends and new energy projects.

The report shows that coal is set to be key to this, with the demand set to grow by 4.5%. 

This would surpass its 2019 levels and approach its all-time peak from 2014. The electricity sector will account for three-quarters of this.

“This is a dire warning that the economic recovery from the Covid crisis is currently anything but sustainable for our climate,” said Fatih Birol, the IEA Executive Director.

Unless governments around the world move rapidly to start cutting emissions, we are likely to face an even worse situation in 2022. The Leaders Summit on Climate hosted by US President Joe Biden this week is a critical moment to commit to clear and immediate action ahead of COP26 in Glasgow.

According to the report, in 2021, global energy demand is set to increase by 4.6%.

Despite major advances in renewable energy, the demand for all fossil fuels is still expected to grow, with both coal and gas set to rise above their 2019 levels.

Oil, which saw a decline in use due to the impact of Covid is also rebounding strongly but is expected to stay below its 2019 peak, with the aviation sector still feeling the effects of Covid.

The expected rise in coal use dwarfs that of renewables by almost 60%, despite accelerating demand for green energy.

Coal demand

Of the projected growth in coal demand, more than 80% set to come from Asia, which in turn is led by China.

Coal use in the EU and the US also looks set to increase but will likely remain well below pre-Covid levels.

According to the report, electricity generated from renewable sources will grow by over 8% this year and will make up more than half of the increase in overall electricity supply worldwide.

Solar and wind power will be the biggest players, with both on track for their largest annual rise in history.

Renewables are set to provide 30% of electricity generation worldwide in 2021, their biggest share of the power mix since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and up from less than 27% in 2019.

China is expected to account for almost half of the global increase in electricity generation from renewables, followed by the US, the EU, and India.

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