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Carbon emissions set to surge, undoing dramatic falls of 2020

Image credit: reuters

Global carbon dioxide output is on course to surge through 2021, reversing most of the fall seen during 2020 associated with the coronavirus pandemic.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) predicts that CO2 will surge by 1.5 billion tonnes in 2021, the second-largest increase in history, reversing most of last year’s decline. This would be the biggest annual rise in emissions since 2010, during the carbon-intensive recovery from the global financial crisis.

The IEA’s Global Energy Review 2021 estimates that CO2 emissions will increase by almost five per cent this year to 33 billion tonnes, based on the latest national data from around the world as well as real-time analysis of economic growth trends and new energy projects that are set to come online.

The key driver is coal demand, which is set to grow by 4.5 per cent, surpassing its 2019 level and approaching its all-time peak from 2014, with the electricity sector accounting for three-quarters of this increase.

“Global carbon emissions are set to jump by 1.5 billion tonnes this year – driven by in the resurgence of coal use in the power sector. 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.”

Global energy demand is set to increase by 4.6 per cent in 2021 – led by emerging markets and developing economies – pushing it above its 2019 level.

Demand for all fossil fuels is on course to grow significantly in 2021, with both coal and gas set to rise above their 2019 levels. Oil is also rebounding strongly but is expected to stay below its 2019 peak, as the aviation sector remains under pressure.

Last year, the CEO of Royal Dutch Shell said he believed the ongoing transition to low-carbon energy sources could accelerate as economies recover from the impact of the coronavirus crisis. But the expected rise in coal use dwarfs that of renewables by almost 60 per cent, despite accelerating demand for renewables. More than 80 per cent of the projected growth in coal demand in 2021 is set to come from Asia, led by China. Coal use in the United States and the EU is also on course to increase but will remain well below pre-crisis levels.

Electricity generation from renewables is set to leap by over eight per cent in 2021, accounting for more than half of the increase in overall electricity supply worldwide. The biggest contribution to that growth comes from solar and wind, which are on track for their largest annual rise in history. Electricity generation from wind is projected to grow by 275 terawatt-hours, or around 17 per cent, from last year. Electricity generation from solar PV is expected to increase by 145 terawatt-hours, up almost 18 per cent from last year.

Renewables are set to provide 30 per cent 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 per cent in 2019.

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

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