World Emissions

Most of the counter-arguments I hear amount to speculation about the future.

"In 10 years from now we'll have cold fusion working" ... "The next generation of wind turbines will be twice as powerful and never stop generating electricity" ... "We will soon have replaced Lithium-based batteries with ones that need no mining or extraction."

You know the sort of thing.

But we need to keep a clear view of how well we are doing. In our efforts to decarbonise, how successful are we?

Let's look at the annual reports published by the International Energy Agency (IEA) for the last 3 years.

What happened in 2019?

The IEA Global Energy Review 2019 reported an absolute decline in the use of coal and a record increase in the use of renewables. Electricity demand grew at the slowest rate since the financial crisis.

Global energy-related CO2 emissions remained little changed in 2019 at 33.2 gigatonnes (Gt), following two years of increases. This stabilisation resulted mainly from a sharp decline in CO2 emissions from the power sector in advanced economies.

This chart shows the global CO2 emissions from 1990-2019.

What happened in 2020?

In 2020 the coronavirus pandemic caused huge fluctuations in both energy demand and energy supply.

The IEA Global Energy Review 2020 reported in "real time" during the year, showing the huge fluctuations both nationally and worldwide.

According to the IEA Global CO2 emissions declined by 5.8% in 2020, or almost 2 Gt CO2 – the largest ever decline and almost five times greater than the 2009 decline that followed the global financial crisis.

What happened in 2021?

The IEA Global Energy Review 2021 reported that in 2021 global energy-related CO2 emissions are projected to rebound and grow by 4.8% as demand for coal, oil and gas rebounds with the economy. The increase of over 1 500 Mt CO2 would be the largest single increase since the carbon-intensive economic recovery from the global financial crisis more than a decade ago, it leaves global emissions in 2021 around 400 Mt CO2, or 1.2%, below the 2019 peak.

However, most worryingly, the report expects recovering economic activity to reverse 2020’s decline in coal demand, with a 4.5% increase pushing global coal demand above 2019 levels. The power sector accounted for just over 40% of the drop in coal use in 2020, but the rapid increase in coal-fired generation in Asia sees it account for three-quarters of the rebound in 2021.

We don't have final figures from the IEA yet, but will update this page when we do.

In the meantime, the chart on the right shows the progress of CO2 emissions since 1940.

One of the most straightforward metrics of how we are doing is that chart. It needs to show signficant downward progress very soon.

Statistic: Annual CO2 emissions worldwide from 1940 to 2020 (in billion metric tons) | Statista
Find more statistics at Statista

And finally, a warning from the IEA:

The world has not heeded the call for a sustainable recovery from the Covid-19 crisis.

The world must now ensure that the global rebound in emissions in 2021 was a one-off – and that sustainable investments combined with the accelerated deployment of clean energy technologies will reduce CO2 emissions in 2022, keeping alive the possibility of reducing global CO2 emissions to net zero by 2050.