Global energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions could surge by 1.5-billion tonnes in 2021 to 33-billion tonnes, reversing most of last year’s decline caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, as rebounding coal demand in the electricity sector more than offsets record renewables deployments.
This forecast is made in a new International Energy Agency (IEA) report, which states that the expected 5% increase in CO2 emissions will represent the biggest yearly increase since 2010 and the second largest in history.
The report shows that global energy demand is set to increase by 4.6% in 2021, led by emerging markets and developing economies, with electricity demand heading for its fastest growth in more than 10 years, with demand expected to increase by 4.5%, or over 1 000 terawatt-hours (TWh).
Based on the latest national data from around the world as well as real-time analysis of economic growth trends and new energy projects, the ‘Global Energy Review 2021’ says coal demand could grow by 4.5%, surpassing its 2019 level and approaching its all-time peak from 2014.
More than 80% of that growth is concentrated in Asia, with China alone projected to account for over 50% of global coal growth.
“This is a dire warning that the economic recovery from the Covid crisis is currently anything but sustainable for our climate,” IEA executive director Fatih Birol said in a statement ahead of the ‘Leaders Summit on Climate’ being hosted by US President Joe Biden this week.
“Unless governments around the world move rapidly to start cutting emissions, we are likely to face an even worse situation in 2022.”
A rapid increase in coal-fired generation in Asia also means the power sector is expected to account for 80% of the energy mineral’s rebound in 2021.
The expected rise in coal use dwarfs that of renewables by almost 60%, despite accelerating demand for wind and solar photovoltaic (PV).
The report forecasts that electricity generation from renewables will leap by over 8% in 2021, accounting for more than half of the increase in overall electricity supply globally.
Renewables are also expected to provide 30% of electricity generation worldwide this year; their biggest share of the power mix since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and up from less than 27% in 2019.
The biggest contribution to renewables growth will come from solar PV and wind, which are on track for their largest yearly rise in history.
Electricity generation from wind is projected to grow by 17% or 275 TWh, while electricity generation from solar PV is expected to increase by 18% or 145 TWh. The combined output from wind and solar is on track to reach more than 2 800 TWh in 2021.
Natural gas demand is set to grow by 3.2% in 2021, placing global demand more than 1% above 2019 levels.
Oil is also rebounding strongly but is expected to stay below its 2019 peak, as the aviation sector remains under pressure.