climate change

IEA: CO2 emissions reached record highs in 2021

Photo credit: IEA.

By Anders Lorenzen

The world’s leading energy analyst body, The International Energy Agency (IEA), has injected some reality into the cause of tackling the climate crisis.

The energy analysts found that despite all the efforts to curb emissions, in 2021 global energy-related CO2 emissions rose to their highest ever level as the lockdowns put in place by many governments due to the pandemic were eased. Subsequently, emissions rose by 6% to a record 36.3 billion tonnes.

A statement released by the IEA said: “The world must now ensure that the global rebound in emissions in 2021 was a one-off – and that an accelerated energy transition contributes to global energy security and lower energy prices for consumers.” 

Coal the largest culprit

Coal-burning was by far the largest contributor to the increase. This most polluting fossil fuel accounted for over 40% of the overall growth in global CO2 emissions – reaching an all-time high of 15.3 billion tonnes. Emission from natural gas also rose well above 2019 levels to 7.5 billion tonnes.

The world’s current largest emitter, China, was the main driver of the rise in emissions and was also the only major economy to experience growth in both 2020 and 2021. IEA said that in 2021 alone China’s CO2 emissions rose above 11.9 billion tonnes, this accounts for 33% of the global total.  

In India, also one of the world’s largest emitters, growth in coal use for electricity generation caused their emissions to rise above their 2019 levels. IEA said that their coal-fired generation reached an all-time high by jumping 13% above its 2020 level. In India, the growth of renewables stalled and slowed down to the average rate seen over the previous five years.

The surge in gas prices in Europe and the US also contributed to the rise in global emissions, because it became more profitable for power generators to burn coal, which produces double the emissions produced by gas-powered power plants. The IEA added that switching from gas to coal, mainly in the US and Europe, pushed up the global CO2 emissions from electricity generation by well over 100 million tonnes.

This latest analysis will worry climate advocates and will back up the argument that the world is not moving fast enough to act on the climate crisis.

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