Global carbon emissions in 2021 are set to rebound close to pre-Covid levels, according to the Global Carbon Project.
Fossil carbon emissions dropped by 5.4% in 2020 amid Covid lockdowns, but the new report projects an increase of 4.9% this year (4.1% to 5.7%) to 36.4 billion tonnes.
Emissions from coal and gas use are set to grow more in 2021 than they fell in 2020, but emissions from oil use remain below 2019 levels.
For major emitters, the 2021 emissions appear to return to pre-COVID trends of decreasing CO2 emissions for the United States and European Union and increasing CO2 emissions for India. For China, the response to the COVID-19 pandemic has sparked further growth in CO2 emissions, pushed by the power and industry sectors.
The research team – including the University of Exeter, the University of East Anglia (UEA), CICERO and Stanford University – say a further rise in emissions in 2022 cannot be ruled out if road transport and aviation return to pre-pandemic levels and coal use is stable.
The findings come as world leaders meet at COP26 in Glasgow to address the climate crisis and try to agree on a plan of action going forward.
“The rapid rebound in emissions as economies recover from the pandemic reinforces the need for immediate global action on climate change,” said Professor Pierre Friedlingstein, of Exeter’s Global Systems Institute, who led the study.
“The rebound in global fossil CO2 emissions in 2021 reflects a return towards the pre-Covid fossil-based economy.Investments in the green economy in post-Covid recovery plans of some countries have been insufficient so far, on their own, to avoid a substantial return close to pre-Covid emissions.”
Prof Corinne Le Quéré, Royal Society Research Professor at UEA’s School of Environmental Sciences, contributed to this year’s analysis. She said: “It will take some time to see the full effect of the Covid-related disruptions on global CO2 emissions. A lot of progress has been made in decarbonising global energy since the Paris Agreement was adopted in 2015, plus renewables is the only energy source that continued to grow during the pandemic. New investments and strong climate policy now need to support the green economy much more systematically and push fossil fuels out of the equation.”