Although the COVID-19 crisis last year triggered the largest annual decline in global energy-related CO2 emissions of 5.8% since Second World War, they saw a large rebound above 2019 levels in December when major economies increased economic activity, a new report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) said Tuesday
According to the IEA's Global Energy Review: CO2 Emissions in 2020 report, global emissions plunged by almost 2 billion last year, the largest absolute decline in history. However, the IEA's data showed that global emissions were 60 million tons, or 2%, higher in December 2020 compared to the same month of 2019.
Global emissions from oil use plummeted by well over 1.1 billion tons, down from around 11.4 billion tons. This drop was due to lower the use of oil for road transport and aviation as the countries applied quarantine rules by stopping international travel.
The report showed that in conjunction with the rise in oil consumption, the rise in emissions as travel and economic activities picked up around the world.
"Major economies led the resurgence as a pick-up in economic activity pushed energy demand higher and significant policies measures to boost clean energy were lacking. Many economies are now seeing emissions climbing above pre-crisis levels," the IEA said.
Emissions in China last year increased by 0.8%, or 75 million tons, from 2019 levels. China was the first major economy to emerge from the pandemic and lift restrictions, prompting its economic activity and emissions to rebound from April onwards.
Emissions in India rose above 2019 levels from September as restrictions were relaxed, while in Brazil the rebound of road transport activity led to the resurgence of oil demand, and increases in gas demand in the last months of 2020 pushed emissions above 2019 levels.
Although emissions in the US fell by 10% last year, they started to bounce back on a monthly basis. US emissions in December last year approached the levels seen in December 2019.
According to the IEA, this was the result of accelerating economic activity along with the combination of higher natural gas prices and colder weather favoring an increase in coal use.
"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. If governments do not move quickly with the right energy policies, this could put at risk the world’s historic opportunity to make 2019 the definitive peak in global emissions," Fatih Birol, the IEA executive director was quoted as saying.
Although, according to IEA data, global emissions from the electricity sector dropped by 450 million tons last year, partly from lower electricity demand but also from increases in electricity generation by solar PV and wind, Birol said the IEA’s numbers show a return to carbon-intensive business-as-usual.
The share of solar PV and wind in global electricity generation rose from 27% in 2019 to 29% in 2020, the biggest annual increase on record.
“This year is pivotal for international climate action – and it began with high hopes – but these latest numbers are a sharp reminder of the immense challenge we face in rapidly transforming the global energy system," Birol said.
In March, he recalled that the IEA urged governments to put clean energy at the center of their economic stimulus plans to ensure a sustainable recovery.
The report warned that the record increase in electric vehicle sales last year is insufficient to offset the growth in emissions caused by the uptick in road traffic around the world.
Last year, around 3.2 million electric vehicles were sold worldwide, marking an over 40% year-on-year increase to over 10 million hitting the road.
A decline in electricity sector emissions of around 500 million tons is necessary every year for the world to achieve the climate goals of the Paris Agreement by limiting global warming to well below 2° Celsius. A further fall in emissions from the electricity sector would be required to achieve the 1.5° Celsius target.
"If current expectations for a global economic rebound this year are confirmed – and in the absence of major policy changes in the world’s largest economies – global emissions are likely to increase in 2021," Birol warned, adding that there are still reasons for optimism.
According to Birol, China's carbon neutrality target, the rejoining of the US to the Paris Agreement along with putting the climate at the heart of its policy-making, the EU’s push ahead with its Green Deal and sustainable recovery plans and India's renewables success are examples to stay optimistic.
He said the UK is building global momentum towards stronger climate action at the COP26 meeting that will take place in November in Glasgow.
In order to show a sustainable path forward, the IEA will publish on May 18 the world’s first comprehensive roadmap for the energy sector to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, the IEA concluded.
By Nuran Erkul Kaya