According to a new IEA report, global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions are on track to grow by 1.5 billion tonnes in 2021, the second-largest increase in history, erasing the majority of last year’s reduction caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. This would be the largest annual increase in emissions since 2010, when the world was recovering from the global financial crisis with a high carbon footprint.
The increased use of coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel, for electricity generation is substantially driving the rise in emissions, particularly in Asia but also in the United States. The recovery in coal is especially concerning because it occurs despite falling prices for renewable energy, which is currently cheaper than coal.
According to the IEA’s Global Energy Review 2021, CO2 emissions will rise by over 5% this year to 33 billion tonnes, based on the most recent national statistics from around the world as well as real-time analysis of economic growth trends and new energy projects expected to come online. The primary driver is coal demand, which is expected to increase by 4.5 percent this year, exceeding its 2019 level and approaching its all-time high from 2014, with the energy sector accounting for three-quarters of this rise.
Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director and one of the world’s leading experts on energy and climate, told the Guardian exclusively: “This is alarming and very alarming.” On the one hand, governments nowadays declare climate change to be a top priority. On the other side, we are witnessing the second-largest increase in emissions in history. It’s quite disappointing.”
Birol contrasted the current jump in emissions to the financial crisis, when emissions increased by more than 6% in 2010 as countries attempted to revive their economies with cheap fossil fuel energy. “It appears we are on track to make the same mistakes,” he cautioned. “I’m even more dissatisfied this time than I was in 2010.” Global energy demand is expected to rise by 4.6 percent in 2021, led by emerging countries and developing economies, putting it above the level seen in 2019. Demand for all fossil fuels is expected to rise significantly in 2021, with coal and gas both expected to outperform their 2019 levels. Oil is also firmly rising, although it is projected to remain below its 2019 peak as the aviation sector remains under pressure.
Despite rising demand for renewable, the predicted increase in coal use surpasses that of renewable by about 60%. More than 80% of the estimated increase in coal consumption in 2021 is expected to come from Asia, driven by China. Coal use in the United States and the European Union is also expected to rise, albeit at a far lower rate than before the crisis. Despite vowing last year to achieve net zero emissions by 2060, China plans to build dozens of coal-fired power plants. Beijing’s five-year economic plan, released last month, provided scant specificity on reducing emissions before 2030.
The findings of the IEA, according to Nicholas Stern, a climate economist and the chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change at the London School of Economics, “show that governments actually need to act with greater urgency to speed the transition to zero-carbon pathways if we are to have a hope of reducing emissions in line with the Paris agreement. This is a critical and historic opportunity to rebuild differently from the polluting methods of the past, particularly to move away from coal much more swiftly. Less coal, not more, will be required for a strong and lasting recovery.”
(Source: IEA report, The Guardian)