Global carbon emissions rebounded to record high in 2021 amid economic recovery


After the world recovered from the Covid-19 pandemic with significant reliance on fossil fuels, carbon emissions surged to their greatest levels in history in 2021, with energy related emissions increasing 6% to 36.3 gigatonnes, according to a new report from the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Coal was the driving factor of the increase, accounting for more than 40% of the bounce in worldwide carbon emissions, which reached an all-time high of 15,3 billion tonnes. Energy-related emissions rose by nearly 2 billion tonnes, which marked the highest yearly increase.

The IEA emphasized that the rebound in emissions in 2021 must not occur again, and that the transition to renewable energy must be accelerated. The statistics also show that the worldwide economic recovery from Covid-19 has not been the clean transition that world leaders had hoped for.

According to the IEA, although emissions declined during the pandemic due to less air travel and a slowdown in industry, skyrocketing gas prices in Europe and the U.S. led to the return to coal, which might negate the emissions reduction achieved so far.

In 2021, renewable energy sources and nuclear power generated more worldwide electricity than coal. Renewables-based generation exceeded 8,000 TWH in 2021, reaching an all-time high, with wind and solar power leading the way. However, drought that happened in the western U.S. and Brazil has resulted in a decrease in hydro power. The historic bounce in carbon emission thus occurred despite record-breaking growth in renewable energy.

China's CO2 emissions accounted for 33% of world CO2 emissions in 2021, owing partly to a significant growth in electricity consumption, which relied heavily on coal power.

Carbon emissions in India, world’s second populous country, rose sharply in 2021, owing to increased coal use for electricity and a halt in renewable energy adoption.

By contrast, while advanced economies recovered from Covid-19 in 2021, their carbon emissions did not bounce back strongly, proving a more stable drop of fossil fuels in their energy structure. Carbon emissions in the United States were 4% lower in 2021 than they were in 2019, while EU saw a 2.4% decrease.

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