Global carbon pollution back to pre-Covid levels: IEA

Staff Correspondent

3 March, 2021 12:00 AM printer

Global carbon emissions have returned to pre-pandemic levels after a resurgence in economic activity along with a lack of clean energy policies, said the International Energy Agency (IEA).

According to the IEA, the energy-related emissions were two percent higher in December 2020 than in the same month a year earlier.

The figures were released on Tuesday in a IEA report titled: "Global Energy Review: CO2 Emissions in 2020".

In China, carbon pollution last year exceeded 2019 levels by more than half a percent despite a draconian, though brief, lockdown to halt the virus' spread, it said.

"China -- which accounts for more than a quarter of global CO2 output -- was the only major economy to grow in 2020," the report stated. Other countries are also now seeing emissions climb above pre-Covid crisis levels, the IEA report found.

In India, the emission level rose above 2019 levels from September as economic activity increased and Covid restrictions relaxed. The rebound of road transport in Brazil from May drove a recovery in oil demand, while increases in gas demand toward the end of 2020 pushed emissions above 2019 levels in the final quarter.  US emissions fell by 10 percent in 2020, but by December were approaching levels from the year before. 

“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,” said Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA Executive Director.

“If governments don’t 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,” he added.

Dr Birol said, "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.”

According to IEA Executive Director, if current expectations for a global economic rebound this year were confirmed – and in the absence of major policy changes in the world’s largest economies – global emissions “are likely to increase in 2021.” Earlier, global emissions plunged by almost 2 billion tonnes in 2020, the largest absolute decline in history.

Most of this – around 1 billion tonnes, which is more than the annual emissions of Japan – was due to lower use of oil for road transport and aviation.

In addition, global emissions from the electricity sector dropped by 450 million tonnes in 2020. This resulted partly from lower electricity demand but also from increases in electricity generation by solar PV and wind.