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Global carbon dioxide emissions have returned to pre-pandemic levels

Friday, March 5th 2021, 10:52 am - Experts say that an increase in travel and economic activity during the final months of 2020 contributed to the rise in emissions

Despite the unprecedented drop in emissions the world experience when the COVID-19 pandemic escalated in March 2020, the International Energy Agency (IEA) reports that global carbon dioxide emissions have already returned to pre-pandemic levels.

The IEA says that the pandemic “triggered the largest annual drop in global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions since the Second World War” largely due to lower oil use for road transportation and aviation, which resulted in an overall carbon emissions decline of 6 per cent.

The lowest amount of global emissions occurred in April, but the December levels exceeded those that were released during the same month in 2019. Emissions were 2 per cent (60 million tonnes) greater in December 2020 compared to the previous December and the IEA says that this was likely caused by increasing economic activity and a lack of clean energy policies.

“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 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,” said Dr. Fatih Birol, IEA Executive Director, in the organization’s press release.

air pollution emissions Credit: Pixabay Credit: Pixabay

Certain countries saw greater emissions declines than others. The U.S. saw a 10 per cent decline in 2020, even though emissions started rising by the end of that year, and 2020 emissions rose above 2019 levels in China, India, and Brazil.

The IEA says that global emissions from the energy sector decreased by 450 million tonnes in 2020. To meet the goals outlined in the Paris Agreement and prevent global temperatures from rising more than 2°C since the early 1900s, electricity sector emissions would have to decline by 500 million tonnes each year. Even though the decline in emissions during the pandemic was an indirect result of the extreme actions individuals and industries took to stay safe, the scale of these actions will need to be amplified to continue to trend.

Reducing emissions by 500 million tonnes each year will require momentous advances in carbon capture technology and rapid development of climate policies. The work needed to achieve this green transition seems like a daunting task, but leading energy experts say that we are closer and much more capable than many think.

The Global 100% RE Strategy Group published a report that says electricity from solar, wind, and water could power the entire world by 2030 and renewable energy could also be the sole energy source for the world’s heating, cooling, transport, and industries by 2035. The report says that 11 countries have already reached or exceeded 100 per cent renewable energy, 49 countries have passed laws to reach 100 per cent renewable electricity by 2050, as well as over 280 international businesses committing to the same goal.

“A 100 per cent renewable energy system will be more cost-effective than will a future system based primarily on fossil and nuclear power. The transformation to 100 per cent renewables will boost the global economy, create millions more jobs than lost, and substantially reduce health problems and mortality due to pollution,” the report says.

The IEA will release its Global Energy Review 2021 in April, which will analyze 2021’s emerging trends in global energy demand and emissions. The organization will also publish “the world’s first comprehensive roadmap for the energy sector to reach net zero emissions by 2050” on May 18.

Thumbnail credit: Pixabay

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