Emissions from energy sector in 2021 reached highest level ever

Emissions from energy sector in 2021 reached highest level ever
Credit: Belga

The energy sector never emitted so much CO2 as in 2021, when countries relied more on coal to fuel the economic recovery that took place following the pandemic-driven year.

The emissions rate reached the "the highest level ever," according to a recent analysis from the International Energy Agency (IEA). In 2021, the total emissions rose to 36.3 billion tonnes, a 6% increase compared to levels recorded in 2020, when the sector's CO2 emissions had fallen at an unprecedented rate (-5.2%).

"The numbers make clear that the global economic recovery has not been the sustainable recovery that the IEA called for during the early stages of the pandemic in 2020," a statement from the IEA read.

"The world must now ensure that the global rebound in emissions in 2021 was a one-off – and that an accelerated energy transition contributes to global energy security and lower energy prices for consumers."

The increase in global CO2 emissions of over two billion tonnes in one year was the largest in history in absolute terms, "more than offsetting the previous year’s pandemic-induced decline," the IEA stated.

The analysis showed that, aside from the spikes in natural gas prices, which led to more coal being burned despite renewable power generation registering its largest ever growth, the colder temperatures and adverse weather conditions also drove the recovery of energy demand in 2021.

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Coal accounted for over 40% of the overall growth in global CO2 emissions last year, reaching an all-time high of 15.3 billion tonnes, while CO2 emissions from natural gas reached 10.7 billion tonnes, well above the pre-pandemic levels.

Despite the rebound of coal, renewable energy sources and nuclear power provided a higher share of global electricity generation than coal in 2021, with renewables-based generation even reaching an all-time high.

Remarkably, CO2 emissions from oil remained below pre-pandemic levels due to the limited recovery in global transport activity in 2021, specifially the aviation sector, which continued to be affected by travel measures.

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