climate change

The IEA warns that CO2 emissions are on the rise again

A German coal power plant. Photo credit: Arnold Paul cropped by Gralo, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia.

By Anders Lorenzen

If environmentalists got their hopes up after CO2 emissions dropped last year due to the global lockdown, those hopes were dashed last week as we learnt that as the world begins to open up again a rise in emissions is following.

Last week, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said that after emissions rebounded at the end of the year, they’re now on course to rise even further. 

In December 2020 emissions were already up 2% compared to December 2019 as the rebound effect gained ground and increased energy demand.

The world’s biggest emitter, China was the only country that increased its emissions last year with an increase of 0.8% or 75 million tonnes from 2019 levels, the IEA said. The third biggest emitter, India’s emissions rose above 2019 levels from last September as restrictions were relaxed. 

A stark warning

The executive director of the IEA Fatih Birol said on the matter: “The rebound in global carbon emissions toward the end of last year is a stark warning that not enough is being done to accelerate clean energy transitions worldwide.” He further explained that if the expectations of the global economic rebound for 2021 are to stick we must see major policy changes in the world’s largest economies to avoid global emissions increasing in line with them this year.

Unprecedented decline

In 2020, as a result of lockdowns and restrictions, primary energy demand fell by 4% leading to an unprecedented decline of almost 2 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions according to the IEA. Last year in the power sector emissions fell by 3.3% representing the largest drop on record. Although the fall was partly due to decreased energy demand, the growth of renewables was actually the biggest reason. In the power sector, the share of renewables rose to 29%, up from 27% in 2019. In addition, the emissions from transport fell by 14% compared with 2019 levels.

Many developed economies are in line with the drop in COVID-19 infections and mortality rates and the successful implications of vaccines, expected to gradually ease restrictions and lockdowns in the coming months. To counter a sudden increase in emissions, many countries have put in place green recovery strategies, though many climate campaign groups argue they’re not ambitious enough.

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