LONDON (ICIS)–Global carbon dioxide (CO2)
emissions were lower in 2020 year on year due
to the lockdowns-induced lull in the second
quarter, but by December they were already 2%
higher than in the same month of 2019, the
International Energy Agency (IEA) said on
Countries’ lack of clean energy policies was
compounded by the economic recovery from the
first wave of the pandemic, which has been
powered by the traditional fossil fuels that
emit greenhouse gases (GHGs) causing global
warming; CO2 is one of them.
The IEA said global energy-related CO2
emissions fell by 5.8% in 2020, year on year,
the largest annual percentage decline since the
Second World War.
“In absolute terms, the decline in emissions of
almost 2,000m tonnes of CO2 is without
precedent in human history – broadly speaking,
this is the equivalent of removing all of the
EU’s emissions from the global total,” said the
But the rebound observed by December, and the
fact that many countries’ emissions have
already reached pre-pandemic levels, was a
worrying sign, said the Paris-based Agency.
“The rebound in global carbon emissions toward
the end of last year is a stark warning that
not enough is being done to accelerate clean
energy transitions worldwide,” said Fatih
Birol, the IEA’s executive director.
“If governments don’t move quickly with the
right energy policies, this could put at risk
the world’s historic opportunity to make 2019
the definitive peak in global emissions.
“If current expectations for a global economic
rebound this year are confirmed – and in the
absence of major policy changes in the world’s
largest economies – global emissions are likely
to increase in 2021.”
The IEA’s warning will put at risk hopes that
2019 was the peak year for emissions; the drop
in emissions came at a huge social and economic
cost and, despite talk of a green recovery
post-pandemic, fossil fuels use is likely to be
still dominant in the 2020s, with emissions
possibly yet to peak.
“Our numbers show we are returning to
carbon-intensive business-as-usual. This year
is pivotal for international climate action –
and it began with high hopes – but these latest
numbers are a sharp reminder of the immense
challenge we face in rapidly transforming the
global energy system,” added Birol.
Most countries made pledges to comply with the
2015 Paris Agreement commitments to slow down
climate change; the aim is to limit global
warming to below 1.5 degree Celsius by 2100,
compared with pre-industrial levels; some
analysts believe the world is on course for a
3.0-degree-Celsius rise instead.
The Paris Agreement signatories are due to meet
in Glasgow, UK, in November to step up their
The IEA’s Birol said that despite the final
figures for 2020 showing emissions rising
again, hopes that greener policies would be
implemented had risen after major economies
upped their pledges.
“There are still reasons for optimism. China
has set an ambitious carbon-neutrality target;
the new US administration has re-joined the
Paris Agreement and is putting climate at the
heart of its policy-making; the EU is pushing
ahead with its Green Deal and sustainable
recovery plans,” said Birol.
“India’s stunning success with renewables could
transform its energy future; and the UK is
building global momentum toward stronger
climate action at COP26 in November.”
Detailed statistics and interactive about
global emission can be viewed at the IEA’s
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