Global CO2 Emissions Set to Surge in 2021 in Post-Covid Economic Rebound

Energy-related carbon dioxide emissions are projected to increase by 1.5 billion tons this year, the second-largest increase in history, according to a new report from the International Energy Agency.

The IEA said that CO2 emissions are expected to rise nearly 5 percent in 2021, to 33 billion tons, reversing most of last year’s emissions decline caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. This year’s jump in greenhouse gas emissions will be the largest annual rise since the 2010 recovery from the global financial crisis.

The IEA said that the key driver of the emissions increase is the rise in coal use, forecasting that coal-burning in 2021 would come close to the all-time peak of 2014. Use of natural gas is also projected to increase this year above 2019 levels, and demand for oil is rebounding strongly, the IEA reported.

“This is a dire warning that the economic recovery from the Covid crisis is currently anything but sustainable for our climate,” said Fatih Birol, executive director of the IEA. “Unless governments around the world move rapidly to start cutting emissions, we are likely to face an even worse situation in 2022.” Birol said that a virtual climate summit being hosted by U.S. President Joe Biden this week is a “critical moment” to commit to immediate action to reduce emissions at the UN climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland this November.

Global CO2 emissions will jump sharply this year despite a predicted 17 percent increase in electricity generation from wind power and an 18 percent increase in solar-power generation, according to the IEA. Renewable energy, including hydropower, is expected to provide 30 percent of electricity generation worldwide in 2021. Still, CO2 emissions are soaring because of booming economies in Asia, primarily China, where the construction of coal-fired power plants continues to grow.

Atmospheric concentrations of CO2 are now at 417 parts per million (PPM) and have increased 3 PPM in the past year. Scientists say these increases represent some of the most rapid growth of CO2 emissions in millions of years, even exceeding eras where large volcanic eruptions filled the skies with CO2. If human CO2 emissions are not reined in, atmospheric concentrations of planet-warming greenhouse gases could be double those of pre-Industrial levels by mid-century, with disastrous impacts on the climate, scientists say.