Climate change: Carbon ‘surge’ expected in post-Covid energy boom

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The International Energy Agency (IEA) is predicting a major surge in CO2 emissions from energy this year, as the world rebounds from the pandemic.

Total energy emissions for 2021 will still be slightly lower than in 2019, the agency says.

But CO2 will rise by the second largest annual amount on record.

The use of coal in Asia is expected to be key: the IEA says it will push global demand up by 4.5%, taking it close to the global peak seen in 2014.

However, renewable energy is also booming, with green sources set to supply 30% of electricity this year.

The empty roads, high streets and airports that marked the global response to coronavirus saw the biggest fall in demand for energy since World War Two.

That decline saw carbon emissions tumble by around 6% in 2020, as the more carbon-intensive fuels such as coal and oil were hardest hit by restrictions.

Many hoped that these changes in energy use would be sustained in the recovery from the pandemic, but these latest predictions from the IEA indicate that is not likely to be the case.

Energy demand is booming in the developing world, with a rise of 3.4% predicted for this year – this contrasts with richer economies, where overall energy use is expected to still be 3% below 2019.

In the places where energy demand is growing, coal is playing a key role.

Overall global use declined by around 4% in 2020, but is expected to rise by 4.5% this year.

This is mainly happening in Asia, where China is leading the way and expected to account for more than half of the global coal growth this year.

But even in the US and EU, where coal has been on the back foot for some time, demand is expected to rise – although it will still likely remain below 2019 levels in these regions.

According to the IEA, coal demand is likely to be close to the global peak seen in 2014 – and that has implications for efforts to rein in climate change.

“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,” said Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director.

“This is a dire warning that the economic recovery from the Covid crisis is currently anything but sustainable for our climate.”


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