Global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions rose slightly in December compared with the same month of 2019, indicating the sharp drop seen due to the pandemic was short-lived.
Figures released Tuesday by the International Energy Agency show emissions from the production and use of oil, gas and coal were 2% higher in December 2020 than a year earlier. The Paris-based intergovernmental agency said a resurgence in economic activity coupled with a lack of clean energy policies mean many countries are now seeing higher emissions than before the coronavirus outbreak.
“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 the agency’s executive director, Fatih Birol. “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.”
Scientists have previously calculated that emissions of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas responsible for global warming, fell by 7% during the full year 2020 as people stayed at home because of the pandemic.
The UN Environment Programme has said such a decline would be needed every year for the next decade if the world is going to stay on track to meet the Paris climate accord’s goal of keeping average temperatures from rising by 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) — ideally no more than 1.5C (2.7F) — compared with pre-industrial times.
The IEA figures suggest that is unlikely to happen.
“Our numbers show we are returning to carbon-intensive business-as-usual,” said Birol. “These latest numbers are a sharp reminder of the immense challenge we face in rapidly transforming the global energy system.”
IEA figures show that China was the only major economy whose emissions grew in 2020, while those in the United States fell by 10% compared to 2019. By December, US energy emissions were close to the levels seen in the same month of 2019, the agency said, attributing this to economic recovery and greater coal use due to higher gas prices and colder weather.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Tuesday made a renewed push to end the use of coal, the most polluting fossil fuels.
“Phasing out coal from the electricity sector is the single most important step to get in line with the 1.5-degree goal,” he said at the launch of a new online dashboard tracking the world’s 6,601 coal-fired plants.
Guterres called on governments and businesses to cancel all planned projects for coal mines and power plants, and for the richest countries to put forward a timeline before this year’s global climate conference for phasing out existing sites.