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Global carbon dioxide emissions set for second-biggest rise in history, says IEA

22 Apr 2021

Global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions are set to surge by 1.5 billion tonnes this year – the second-largest increase in history – as coal use outstrips demand for renewables, according to a report from the International Energy Agency (IEA). The increase would reverse most of the decline caused last year by the COVID-19 pandemic, the IEA warned, and would be the biggest annual rise in emissions since 2010. 

The IEA’s Global Energy Review 2021 estimates that CO2 emissions will increase by almost 5 percent this year to 33 billion tonnes. The key driver will be coal demand, which the IEA predicts will grow by 4.5 percent, surpassing its 2019 level and approaching its all-time peak from 2014, with the electricity sector accounting for three-quarters of this increase.

“Global carbon emissions are set to jump by 1.5 billion tonnes this year – driven by the resurgence of coal use in the power sector. This is a dire warning that the economic recovery from the Covid crisis is currently anything but sustainable for our climate,” said Fatih Birol, IEA Executive Director. “Unless governments around the world move rapidly to start cutting emissions, we are likely to face an even worse situation in 2022. The Leaders Summit on Climate hosted by US President Joe Biden this week is a critical moment to commit to clear and immediate action ahead of COP26 in Glasgow.”

Global energy demand is seen increasing 4.6 percent in 2021, led by emerging markets and developing economies, which would push it above its 2019 level, according to the IEA. Demand for all fossil fuels will grow significantly in 2021, with both coal and gas rising above their 2019 levels, the Paris-based organization said. Oil is also rebounding strongly but the IEA expect it to stay below its 2019 peak, as the aviation sector remains under pressure.

The expected rise in coal use will dwarf that of renewables by almost 60 percent, “despite accelerating demand for renewables,” the IEA warned. More than 80 percent of the projected growth in coal demand in 2021 will come from Asia, led by China. 

Electricity generation from renewables will leap by over 8 percent in 2021, accounting for more than half of the increase in overall electricity supply worldwide, the IEA said, driven mainly by solar and wind, which are on track for their largest annual rise in history. Electricity generation from wind is projected to grow by 275 terawatt-hours, or around 17 percent, from last year. Electricity generation from solar PV is expected to increase by 145 terawatt-hours, up almost 18 percent from last year. Their combined output is on track to reach more than 2 800 terawatt-hours in 2021.

Renewables are set to provide 30 percent of electricity generation worldwide in 2021, according to the report – their biggest share of the power mix since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and up from less than 27 percent in 2019. China is expected to account for almost half of the global increase in electricity generation from renewables, followed by the United States, the European Union and India.

The Global Energy Review is the IEA’s annual update on the latest trends in world energy and CO2 emissions. It covers all the main fuels and technologies, providing insights across regions, economies and countries.