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Global energy CO2 emissions to surge in 2021, says IEA

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Global energy-related CO2 emissions are expected to surge by 1.5 billion tonnes in 2021 – the second-largest increase in history, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

The increase, largely driven by an increase in coal demand, would reverse most of 2020’s decline, caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and would be the biggest annual rise in emissions since 2010, during the carbon-intensive recovery from the global financial crisis.

The IEA’s Global Energy Review 2021 estimates that CO2 emissions will increase by almost 5% this year to 33 billion tonnes, based on the latest national data from around the world, as well as real-time analysis of economic growth trends and new energy projects set to come online. The key driver is coal demand, which is set to grow by 4.5%, surpassing its 2019 level and approaching its all-time peak from 2014, with the electricity sector accounting for three-quarters of this increase.

“Global carbon emissions are set to jump by 1.5 billion tonnes this year – driven by the resurgence of coal use in the power sector,” said Fatih Birol, IEA’s executive director. “This is a dire warning that the economic recovery from the COVID-19 crisis is currently anything but sustainable for our climate.

“Unless governments around the world move rapidly to start cutting emissions, we are likely to face an even worse situation in 2022.”

Global energy demand is set to increase by 4.6% in 2021, led by emerging markets and developing economies – pushing it above its 2019 level. Demand for all fossil fuels is on course to grow ‘significantly’ in 2021, with coal and gas set to rise above their 2019 levels. Oil is also rebounding strongly, according to the IEA, but is expected to stay below its 2019 peak, as the aviation sector remains under pressure.

The expected rise in coal use ‘dwarfs’ that of renewables by almost 60%, despite increased demand for renewables. More than 80% of the projected growth in coal demand in 2021 is set to come from Asia, led by China. Coal use in the US and EU is expected to increase but will remain below pre-crisis levels.

Renewables are set to provide 30% of electricity generation globally in 2021. According to the IEA, this will represent the biggest share in the power mix since the start of the Industrial Revolution and up from less than 27% in 2019. China is expected to account for almost half of the global increase in electricity generation from renewables, followed by the US, EU and India.