Global carbon emissions rebound to pre-lockdown levels

Global energy-related carbon emissions were higher in December than in the same month in 2019, as polluting activity rebounded after coronavirus lockdowns, a finding that must serve as a “stern warning” to policymakers, said the head of the International Energy Agency on Tuesday.

The pandemic has resulted in the largest absolute drop in annual global energy-related CO2 emissions in 2020, as economies gripped by the pandemic stalled, the IEA said. But the resumption of activity in the second half of 2020 and the “absence of clean energy policies” led to a further increase in emissions of 2% per year in December.

“In the absence of major and immediate political changes in the world’s largest economies, global emissions will continue to rise,” said Fatih Birol, Executive Director of the IEA. Governments must put clean energy policies “at the heart of their [pandemic] salvage packages, ”he said, or risk a“ substantial rebound in emissions ”in 2021.

The findings follow a UN warning that the latest emission reduction plans 75 signatories to the Paris climate agreement was “well below” what was needed to avoid the worst effects of global warming.

The UN has urged governments to set more ambitious targets and channel pandemic recovery funds into policies aimed at greening economies.

Total global energy-related CO2 emissions in 2020 were about 6% lower than the amount released the year before, almost 2 billion tonnes, for a total of around 32 billion tonnes. Total greenhouse gas emissions are estimated at around 50 billion tonnes.

But the 2% rise in December from the same month in 2019 was caused by a rebound in demand for fossil fuel-based energy in the most polluting countries, including China and India.

China was the only country to produce more annual emissions in 2020, adding 0.8% of CO2 to the atmosphere compared to 2019, despite the 12% reduction in the peak of the February pandemic from the month previous. year.

India’s emissions levels were not as high in the first half of 2020 as the year before, but topped 2019 levels from September.

In the United States, annual emissions were 10% lower than the previous year, but December levels were broadly in line with the same month in 2019.

Birol said the December hike showed countries “are returning to a carbon-intensive status quo.”

Policymakers must combine new regulations with incentives to switch to clean energy alternatives, he said. This would accelerate difficult but essential changes – such as the early retirement of fossil fuel power plants – and send a “strong signal” to investors that those who fund the fossil fuel industry “are at risk. [losing] highligths”.

Lower emission levels in 2020 were more pronounced in the transport sector as governments restricted the movement of people and goods as part of efforts to stem infection rates. About half of the overall improvement in global emissions resulted from a reduction in the use of petroleum for road transport and aviation.

Emissions from international flights were nearly 45 percent lower during the year to a level not seen since 1999, equivalent to taking 100 million cars off the road, the IEA said. However, activity has picked up since April and cleaner alternative fuels for airplanes and heavy road transport are on the rise. far from being widely adopted.

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Global emissions from the electricity sector were also lower by 450 million tonnes in 2020, due to lower demand and an increase in energy produced from renewable energy sources. However, to meet the Paris Agreement target of keeping warming well below 2 ° C, emissions from the power sector would need to be reduced by around 500 million tonnes each year, the IEA said.

Birol said countries must take urgent collective action to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels, adding that he hoped governments would commit to binding emission reduction targets at the November international climate summit.

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