In a new report, the International Energy Agency estimates that carbon emissions from energy use are expected to increase by 1.5 billion tons in 2021, as heavy coal consumption in Asia, and especially China, outweighs the rapid growth of renewable sources. This would be the second largest annual increase in energy-related emissions in history.
“This is a terrible warning that the economic recovery from the Covid crisis is far from sustainable for our climate at the moment,” Executive Director Fatih Birol said in a statement. “Unless governments around the world act quickly to cut emissions, we will likely face an even worse situation in 2022.”
The Paris-based group is sounding the alarm before 40 world leaders meet later this week for a two-day summit on the climate crisis convened by President Joe Biden. Birol called it a “critical moment to commit to clear and immediate action”.
When countries around the world closed last year and people were told to stay home to limit Covid-19 infections, emissions dropped dramatically.
But any climate benefit from the pandemic appears to be short-lived. The IEA estimates that global energy demand will increase by 4.6% in 2021, exceeding 2019 levels, due to increasing energy consumption in developing and emerging countries.
Energy-related emissions are expected to end the year just below 2019 levels and reverse 80% of the 2020 decline.
A revival in coal consumption is particularly worrying. Demand this year should approach its 2014 high.
China is expected to account for 50% of the world’s growth in demand for coal. Usage in the US and Europe is also increasing, but is expected to remain “well below pre-crisis levels”.
Earlier this week, the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres called on developed countries to stop using coal by 2030 and stop building new coal-fired power plants.
Power demand is expected to see the fastest growth in more than a decade.
But there is some good news: More than half of the surge in global electricity supply will come from renewable sources in 2021, thanks in part to growing solar and wind power production from China.
The IEA’s estimates are subject to “great uncertainty” because the course of Covid 19 infections and vaccinations is not clear enough. For example, if travel recovers earlier than expected, the energy demand will increase even further.