IEA issues 'dire warning' on CO2 emissions as it predicts 5% rise

Global electricity demand alone is set for greater growth in 2021 than at any time over the last 10 years

Photo: Reuters Downtown Los Angeles is seen behind an electricity pylon through the morning marine layer.

Global energy-related CO2 emissions are on course to surge by almost 5% in 2021 to 33 billion tonnes, the second-largest increase in history, the International Energy Agency said 20 April in its Global Energy Review 2021. This would reverse most of last year's decline caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and represent the biggest annual rise in emissions since 2010, it said..

"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, the IEA's executive director.

Global energy demand was set to increase by 4.6% in 2021, led by emerging markets and developing economies, with both coal and gas consumption set to rise above 2019 levels.

"Almost 70% of the projected increase in global energy demand is in emerging markets and developing economies. Energy use in advanced economies is on course to be 3% below pre-COVID levels," the IEA said.

Furthermore, demand for all fossil fuels is on course to grow in 2021, with both coal and gas set to rise above 2019 levels. Global coal demand in 2021 was forecast to rise 4.5% year on year, approaching its 2014 peak, the report said. Over 80% of the growth would be concentrated in Asia, China alone accounting for over 50% of the increase in coal burn.

"The expected rise in coal use dwarfs that of renewables by almost 60%, despite accelerating demand for renewables," the IEA said.

Coal demand in the US and the EU was seen staging only a partial recovery, remaining well below pre-COVID-19 levels and in structural decline.

Natural gas demand meanwhile was projected to grow 3.2% in 2021, propelled by Asia, the Middle East and Russia.

"Nearly three-quarters of the global demand growth in 2021 is from the industry and buildings sectors, while electricity generation from natural gas remains below 2019 levels," the report said.

EU gas demand was expected to return to 2019 levels, while in the US - the world's largest gas market - demand growth was set to amount to less than 20% of the 20 Bcm decline in 2020, squeezed by growth in renewables and rising gas prices.

"The Leaders Summit on Climate hosted by US President Joe Biden 22-23 April is thus "a critical moment" to commit to action ahead of the COP26 climate talks in Glasgow this November," Birol commented.

Having dipped 1% last year, global electricity demand was set for greater growth in 2021 than at any time over the last 10 years, up 4.5% or 1,000 TWh year on year, with China accounting for half of this.

This would see electricity's share in global final energy demand rise above 20%, the report said.

Renewables' demand had bucked the trend last year, growing 3%, and was set to grow by more than 8% this year to 8,300 TWh, the largest annual rise for combined wind and solar generation on record.

Generation from wind was projected to grow by 275 TWh, or around 17%, while that from solar was expected to increase by 145 TWh, up almost 18% from 2020.

China was expected to generate 600 TWh and the US 400 TWh of wind power in 2021, more than half the global total

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