Last year saw the biggest drop in CO2 emissions; here’s why that’s not enough

Energy-related carbon dioxide emissions to grow 4.8% as the economy rebounds after COVID-19 pandemic: Global Energy Review 2021 

By DTE Staff
Published: Thursday 29 April 2021
The richest 1 per cent of humanity accounted for 15 per cent of cumulative emissions, according to new report.

Last year was exceptional in terms of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, according to International Energy Agency’s (IEA) Global Energy Review 2021 as global CO2 emissions dropped 5.8 per cent, or almost 2 gigatonne. That would be the largest such decline — nearly five times greater than in 2009, after the global financial crisis.

The drop, expectedly, was induced by the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic and the economic contraction it kicked off, particularly in energy-related sectors. However, it meant not much for the planet warming faster due to continuing carbon emission and the increasing carbon concentration in the atmosphere that hits up the planet.

In 2020 the atmospheric concentration of CO2 was highest ever since the industrial revolution period. “Despite the decline in 2020, global energy-related CO2 emissions remained at 31.5 Gt, which contributed to CO2 reaching its highest ever average annual concentration in the atmosphere of 412.5 parts per million in 2020 — around 50 per cent higher than when the industrial revolution began,” said the report.

Notwithstanding this seemingly a blip in emission reduction, the current year is going to witness massive emission addition as the global economy is on the recovery path. In 2021, the world would add emissions equal to two-thirds of the total emissions of the European Union.

“At the IEA, we estimate that energy-related carbon dioxide emissions are on course to surge by 1.5 billion tonnes in 2021 — the second-largest increase in history — reversing most of last year’s decline caused by the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Fatih Birol, Executive Director, IEA, earlier in a message to the leaders participating in the US President Joe Biden convened Climate Summit. This emission would be majorly generated by uses of coal.   This increase in CO2 emission in 2021 “would be the largest single increase since the carbon-intensive economic recovery from the global financial crisis more than a decade ago”.

However, as IEA forecasts for 2021, the emission level would still be lower than 2019. This is also despite the fact that the global economic output is expected to rebound by 6 per cent in 2021, “pushing the global GDP more than 2 per cent higher than 2019 levels”.

The Global Energy Review 2021 says, “Despite global economic activity rising above 2019 levels in 2021 and global energy demand rebounding above 2019 levels, we do not anticipate a full return of CO2 emissions to pre-crisis levels. Even with an increase in CO2 emissions from oil of over650 Mt CO2 in 2021, oil-related emissions are expected to recover only around half of the 2020 drop and thus should remain 500 Mt CO2 below 2019 levels.”

Emission from coal, however, will bunk the above trend. With the economy recovering, coal use is being forecasted to be higher and so is the emission from this source.

“This (coal use increase in 2021) would push emissions from coal to 14.8 Gt CO2: 0.4 per cent above 2019 levels and only 350 Mt CO2 short of the global high in coal-related CO2 emissions of 2014,” says the Global Energy Review.

In India, economic recovery will result in 200 Mt higher carbon emissions than 2020. This means it is also 1.4 per cent higher than the 2019 level. Again, coal is being attributed to this emission rise. “A rebound in coal demand above 2019 levels drove the emissions increase in India, with the expected rise in coal-fired electricity generation in 2021 likely to be three times greater than the increase in generation from renewable,” says the IEA report.

Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.