When COVID-19 disrupted the world’s economies last year, global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from the use of fossil fuels fell by two billion tons. As some of the lead scientists of the Global Carbon Project (an international group that tracks greenhouse gas emissions), we’ve written about how to keep this decline in emissions going, including the ways COVID is offering to rethink transportation and why economic funds are helping should be used greener than brown (fossil) energy consumption.
We also wrote, “Such reductions in emissions are enormous and unprecedented – but will not last.” A car or airplane (or even a steel mill) parked for a year will cause just as much pollution when finally restarted, and it takes years to do replace fossil infrastructure with cleaner technologies.
We expected that fossil carbon emissions would approach pre-COVID levels when global economic activity returns to normal. And now, as we present in online articles on Earth System Science Data and arXiv.org, they have.
Our new reports estimate that global fossil carbon emissions will decrease to 36.4 billion tons of CO by the end of 2021. will achieve2, an increase of around 4.9 percent compared to 2020. This upswing not only offsets the COVID-19-related decline of 5.4 percent that we reported in 2020, but brings us almost back to the level of 2019, than the world 36.7 billion tons of CO. has emitted2.
The rebound is worrying for a number of reasons. Some people hoped that last year’s record drop in emissions would mark the beginning of the sustained drop in carbon emissions needed to keep the global mean temperature rise below 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius. At least that doesn’t seem to be the case yet, and it won’t happen until more fossil fuel infrastructure is replaced with low-carbon technologies.
Because CO2 Remaining in the atmosphere for centuries, we need to reduce CO2 emissions from fossil fuels to zero or even remove carbon from the atmosphere to prevent further temperature rises. Another 36 billion tons of fossil carbon pollution this year (and any future year) is incompatible with a safe, stable climate. Climate scientists often say, “We’re running out of time,” but it’s true. If the goal is to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees C, we will now have no more than a decade of CO2 we can release into the atmosphere based on current emissions. If we don’t achieve this goal, we may have 30 years of current emissions before the planet warms 2 ° C.
Of all fossil fuels, coal and natural gas were the major contributors to this year’s emissions increase, mainly in industry and the energy sector. Coal consumption is expected to exceed the 2019 level to 15 billion tons of CO in 2021. rise2. Emissions from coal are only slightly (less than 1 percent) below their 2013 peak. CO2 Emissions from the use of natural gas are also likely to rise again above the 2019 level in 2021. CO only2 This year, emissions from oil will amount to around 11.5 billion tons of CO. remain well below the level of 20192.
The increase in emissions is global, but varies by country and economic sector. Based on year-to-date data, we expect fossil CO2 emissions in Europe (EU27) and the United States to rebound by 8 percent in 2021, after falling by more than 10 percent in 2020. Traffic and electricity-based emissions in the United States are still below 2019 levels, but industrial emissions have increased slightly. Europe’s transport and industrial emissions have also fully recovered, but its power sector remains well below 2019 levels. India’s fossil CO2 emissions will increase by almost 13 percent this year, just above 2019 levels, reflecting growth in its power sector that outweigh the combined declines in the industrial and transport sectors.
China saw its emissions rise even more this year. Its estimated fossil emissions in 2021 are 11.2 billion tons of CO2, an increase of about 4 percent compared to 2020 emissions and 6 percent more than 2019. China’s post-COVID-19 economic recovery started earlier than most other countries, and emissions recovery also started earlier. The energy and industrial sectors have recovered the fastest. Coal consumption in China has increased significantly this year; his efforts to recover from COVID-19 appear to have stimulated activity in industries that depend on coal-fired power plants.
Some sectors around the world will continue to experience suppressed emissions, although these declines will be largely offset by increased use in other parts of the global economy.
One sector of the global economy that continues to be severely affected by COVID-19 is aviation. The latest from the International Civil Aviation Organization report The forecast published in October predicts that the number of air passengers this year will remain 50 percent below the 2019 level. However, air traffic only accounts for a few percent of global fossil CO2 emissions, so that even a half-year reduction in absolute emissions this year is relatively modest (“only” half a billion tons of avoided CO2 emissions).
The emissions data for 2020 and 2021 contained at least some good news. Renewable energies saw strong growth of 10 percent worldwide in 2020, despite a decline in both global energy consumption and the use of all three fossil fuels (2 percent, 4 percent and 10th). Percent decrease in gas, coal and oil in 2020). In addition, nearly two dozen countries, which contribute about a quarter of the world’s fossil carbon emissions, saw their emissions drop significantly in the 2010-2019 decade before COVID-19. This list of countries includes the United States, Mexico, and Japan, as well as various nations in Europe, including the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Sweden. In general, we assume that fossil CO2 emissions in these countries will continue to fall in the future.
What will happen in 2022? We can’t rule out a further spike in emissions, especially if transportation returns to pre-pandemic levels and coal consumption stays close to 2021, or worse, continues to rise. The ultimate impact of COVID-19 on fossil carbon emissions remains uncertain and will depend on short-term economic incentives and climate policies. A third of the $ 15-20 trillion global stimulus packages already passed goes to fossil fuels and carbon-intensive heavy industry. Here in the US, very little of our stimulus spending will go into green energy and clean technology unless the Build Back Better bill is passed. As a result of the stimulation of fossil-fuel industries, CO2 emissions are likely to continue to rise.
COVID-19 has shown how great the emission reductions are that are required year after year for climate stabilization. It also showed how much cleaner our air could be in a fossil-free world. Policymakers must redouble their efforts to make emissions reductions more equitable in the future, without the economic disruption felt mainly by the world’s poor.
Like millions of people around the world, we are closely watching the Glasgow Climate Change Conference. Commitments to end deforestation could reduce carbon dioxide pollution by five or more billion tons per year while preserving global biodiversity. In addition, in Glasgow more than 40 countries have committed to phasing out coal. Notable countries missing from the list include China, India, Australia, and the United States.
All authors are members of the Global carbon project, an international group of scientists tracking CO. emissions2 and other greenhouse gases from land, oceans, industry and agriculture.