Equilibrium & Sustainability

Emissions back to pre-pandemic levels, researchers say

After noticeably dropping during the COVID-19 pandemic, global emissions have returned to their 2019 levels, according to a report published by the Global Carbon Project this week.

Global carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels fell by 5.4 percent last year, the analysis said, but are now projected to rise to 4.9 percent above the levels seen in 2020.

“The fast recovery in CO2 emissions, following last year’s sharp drop, should come as no surprise. The world’s strong economic rebound has created a surge in demand for energy, and the global energy system is still heavily dependent on fossil fuels,” researchers wrote.

According to the Global Carbon Project, emissions from all types of fossil fuels — coal, oil and natural gas — increased this year, with coal and natural gas set to grow more than they fell in 2020. Emissions from coal had been dropping before the COVID-19 pandemic, but they have apparently bounced back since the original outbreak began.

“CO2 emissions from global oil use remain well below pre-pandemic levels but are expected to increase in coming years as road transport and aviation recover from COVID-related restrictions,” noted the researchers.

China, the world’s top emitter of carbon dioxide, appears to be contributing the most to the rapid resurgence in emissions levels, the Global Carbon Project’s research found, having been one of the few countries whose emissions levels actually rose in 2020. Overall, China accounted for 31 percent of global emissions last year.

Emissions from India are projected to grow at an even faster rate than China’s, with levels expected to rise 4.4 percent above what was seen in 2019. The U.S. and the European Union are expected to see emissions rise by 7.6 percent this year, roughly 4 percent lower than 2019 levels.

The Global Carbon Project estimated that at the current rate of emissions, the world has roughly 11 more years — or 420 billion tons of CO2 — before it is too late to limit the average global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius. In order for countries to meet their net-zero emissions by 2050 goals, the world will need to reduce global CO2 emissions by 1.4 billion tonnes every year on average.

This data comes out as world leaders are gathered in Glasgow, Scotland for the 2021 United Nations climate change conference COP26. Numerous new climate goals have come out of the summit so far, including a commitment from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to have his nation achieve net-zero emissions by 2070.

Members of the United Nations’ Least Developed Countries have called on more developed nations to step up their own emissions reductions, saying that although they have contributed the least to global warming, they will be impacted the most.

Tags Air pollution Carbon finance Carbon neutrality Coronavirus coronavirus pandemic COVID-19 COVID-19 pandemic Emissions reduction Fossil fuel Global Carbon Project Greenhouse gas emissions

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