Covid-19 Slashed Carbon Emissions. Now They’re Climbing Again.

year’s rise in carbon dioxide emissions will reverse last year’s sharp decline, which some climate scientists hoped could have the environmental ramifications of a pandemic.

Covid-19 crippled many of the world’s largest economies – grounding planes, shutting down factories and keeping motorists off the roads. This has created a demand for fuels that emit carbon dioxide, such as coal, oil and natural gas The International Energy Agency estimates that emissions will fall by 5.8% by 2020, the largest percentage decrease since World War II.

Today they are on the rise again. The IEA said in a report published Tuesday that emissions are expected to rise 4.8 percent this year. This is the largest annual increase since the record growth of 2010, when the world was recovering from the global economic crisis.

Governments are trying to revive the economy amid a global rollout of vaccines. In some major countries, such as the United States and China, demand is rebounding strongly. As parts of the global economy recover, countries are returning to using carbon-intensive fuels, albeit to very different degrees depending on economic trends.

Developing countries such as China will contribute to global energy demand exceeding 2019 levels this year, according to the IEA’s Paris-based Energy Watch. It refers to a sharp increase in the use of coal in developing countries, particularly due to a large projected increase in emissions. China alone will account for more than 50 percent of new coal consumption in 2021, the agency said.

This year, oil demand will still be about 3% below 2019 levels, but is expected to exceed that level in 2023, the agency said in October, before peaking around 2030.

Nevertheless, the IEA expects a net reduction in carbon dioxide emissions of about 400 million tonnes in 2020 and 2021. According to the report, net emissions fell by 1.9 billion tonnes last year and are expected to increase by 1.5 billion tonnes this year.

Smoke attacks last year in China, where demand is picking up strongly.


Cilai Shen/Bloomberg News

The energy mix of the developed world continues to shift towards less carbon-intensive fuels. Last year, the United States consumed more renewable energy than coal for the first time since the 1880s. Historically, wood was the primary source of energy in the United States and the only commercial source until the introduction of hydroelectric power in the late 19th century. The century has arrived in the country. According to the IEA, coal-fired power generation in Europe is disappearing or becoming insignificant in an increasing number of countries.

The agency had previously predicted modest growth in oil and gasoline demand in developed countries, but the expected increase in coal demand in developing countries would dilute the impact of global emissions reductions.

The large emission reductions in 2020 are a sign of the economic pain in many places. While many economists and climate scientists have predicted that emissions will begin to rise again as the economy grows, many others have also bet on what is essentially a one-time upfront payment that could make it easier to meet past emission reduction commitments in the years ahead.

The sharp rise in carbon dioxide emissions shows that the economic recovery following the Covid crisis is no longer sustainable for our climate, he said.

Fatih Birol,

Executive Director of the IEA. If governments around the world don’t start cutting emissions soon, the situation could get worse by 2022.


How has your carbon footprint changed between last year and 2019? Why? Join the discussion below.

The Paris agreement, which the Biden administration joined in February, calls for emissions reductions sufficient to keep temperatures below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

The IEA expects net emissions to increase by 1.5 billion tonnes this year.


Justin Lane/Shutterstock

We are seeing a growing gap between the ambition of policymakers to set climate targets and the will to implement the measures needed to achieve those targets, he said.

Robert McNally,

a former adviser to the George W. Bush administration and chairman of the consulting firm Rapidan Energy Group.

President Biden is preparing for a virtual climate summit this week, to which he is inviting 40 world leaders, including the Russian president.

Vladimir Putin

and the president of China

Xi Jinping.

The government plans to use the summit to set a new emissions reduction target for the US.

The Paris agreement considers China, the world’s second largest economy, a developing country, giving it more time to reduce its emissions. The president recently sent climate envoy John Kerry to China, where the parties discussed the possibility of China making stronger climate commitments. Beijing has pledged to bring carbon emissions to a peak by 2030.

Corrections and additions
Carbon dioxide emissions decreased slightly in 2019 compared to 2018. An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that last year’s decline was the first since 2015. (corrected April 20)

Email David Khodari at [email protected]

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