Global CO2 emissions fall in 2020 but recovery causing rapid rebound - IEA

Author: Jonathan Lopez


LONDON (ICIS)--Global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions were lower in 2020 year on year due to the lockdowns-induced lull in the second quarter, but by December they were already 2% higher than in the same month of 2019, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said on Tuesday.

Countries’ lack of clean energy policies was compounded by the economic recovery from the first wave of the pandemic, which has been powered by the traditional fossil fuels that emit greenhouse gases (GHGs) causing global warming; CO2 is one of them.

The IEA said global energy-related CO2 emissions fell by 5.8% in 2020, year on year, the largest annual percentage decline since the Second World War.

“In absolute terms, the decline in emissions of almost 2,000m tonnes of CO2 is without precedent in human history – broadly speaking, this is the equivalent of removing all of the EU’s emissions from the global total,” said the IEA.

But the rebound observed by December, and the fact that many countries’ emissions have already reached pre-pandemic levels, was a worrying sign, said the Paris-based Agency.

"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 Fatih Birol, the IEA’s 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.

“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."

The IEA's warning will put at risk hopes that 2019 was the peak year for emissions; the drop in emissions came at a huge social and economic cost and, despite talk of a green recovery post-pandemic, fossil fuels use is likely to be still dominant in the 2020s, with emissions possibly yet to peak.

“Our numbers show we are returning to carbon-intensive business-as-usual. 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," added Birol.

Most countries made pledges to comply with the 2015 Paris Agreement commitments to slow down climate change; the aim is to limit global warming to below 1.5 degree Celsius by 2100, compared with pre-industrial levels; some analysts believe the world is on course for a 3.0-degree-Celsius rise instead.

The Paris Agreement signatories are due to meet in Glasgow, UK, in November to step up their commitments.

The IEA’s Birol said that despite the final figures for 2020 showing emissions rising again, hopes that greener policies would be implemented had risen after major economies upped their pledges.

“There are still reasons for optimism. China has set an ambitious carbon-neutrality target; the new US administration has re-joined the Paris Agreement and is putting climate at the heart of its policy-making; the EU is pushing ahead with its Green Deal and sustainable recovery plans,” said Birol.

“India’s stunning success with renewables could transform its energy future; and the UK is building global momentum toward stronger climate action at COP26 in November."

Detailed statistics and interactive about global emission can be viewed at the IEA’s site.