Apr 20, 2021 - Energy & Environment

Carbon emissions are roaring back from COVID-19

Global energy-related CO2 emissions
Data: IEA Global Energy Review 2021; Chart: Axios Visuals

Global energy-related carbon emissions will surge this year as coal, oil and natural gas consumption return from the pandemic that caused an unprecedented emissions decline, the International Energy Agency estimated Tuesday.

Why it matters: The projected rise of nearly 5% would be the largest since the "carbon intensive" recovery from the financial crisis over a decade ago, IEA said, putting emissions just below their 2019 peak.

Threat level: Tragic pandemics are a terrible reason for emissions cuts and they're not a climate policy.

  • But IEA head Fatih Birol, in a statement, called the carbon bounce-back a troubling sign.
  • "This is a dire warning that the economic recovery from the COVID crisis is currently anything but sustainable for our climate," he said in a statement.
  • "Unless governments around the world move rapidly to start cutting emissions, we are likely to face an even worse situation in 2022," Birol said.

The big picture: IEA sees overall global energy demand rising 4.6% this year, pushing it back above 2019 levels, but varies by region.

Most of the increase comes in emerging markets and developing countries, while energy use in "advanced economies" will be 3% below pre-COVID levels, they estimate.

Yes, but: Knowing the future is hard.

"The pace of global vaccine rollouts, the possible emergence of new variants of the Covid-19 virus, and the size and effectiveness of economic stimulus measures all represent major uncertainties," IEA notes.

Change in global energy-related CO2 emissions, by fuel
Data: IEA Global Energy Review 2021; Chart: Axios Visuals

The chart above shows IEA's projections for changes in CO2 emissions from coal, oil and natural gas.

Driving the news: They see global oil demand rising over 6% this year, but staying below 2019 levels.

  • But global coal demand is expected to be higher than 2019 and approach its 2014 worldwide peak, IEA projects.
  • IEA sees China, the world's largest coal consumer, accounting for 55% of the 2021 increase in global coal demand.
  • They see China's coal demand, which rose slightly last year, at a record high in 2021.

Go deeper: Covid-19 Slashed Carbon Emissions. Now They’re Climbing Again. (Wall Street Journal)

Go deeper