Global energy emissions set to rebound as Covid-19 lockdowns lift, IEA warns

Global energy demand is rebounding rapidly from the Covid-19-related slump, with fossil fuels set to play a major role in meeting this demand, the International Energy Agency (IEA) is warning.

Coal and gas demands could be higher this year than in 2019, but oil is set for a far slower recovery

Coal and gas demands could be higher this year than in 2019, but oil is set for a far slower recovery

In its 2021 Global Energy Review, the Agency reveals that global energy demand will grow by 4.6% this calendar year, more than offsetting the 4% contraction felt during 2020. Globally, more energy will be consumed this year than in 2019, the report states.

While last year’s fall in demand affected fossil fuels more adversely than renewables, the IEA believes that certain fossil fuels, including coal, are already primed for a strong recovery. The year-on-year jump in coal demand is likely to be 60% higher than for renewables, by the IEA’s forecasts. Demand growth will largely be led by Asian nations.

The report outlines how oil will take longer to recover and demand may never rebound completely – partly because continuing 2019 consumption levels is not compatible with the Paris Agreement. It states that oil use for road transport will reach pre-Covid levels globally in the last quarter of 2021. Oil use for aviation will not recover as quickly; demand is likely to be a fifth lower in December 2021 than in December 2019.

The global demand for gas this year, meanwhile, is likely to be 1% higher than 2019 levels. Demand growth will be led by the heavy industrial and building sectors, rather than electricity generation, as many nations add more renewable alternatives to the electricity grid.

Spotlight on renewables

In recent months, the IEA has issued multiple warnings that energy-related emissions will rebound rapidly post-pandemic, risking progress towards international climate targets.

The new Review makes this same warning but does illustrate some strong progress in electrification and renewables, claiming that renewable electricity generation “remains the success story of the Covid-19 era”.

On renewable generation, the report outlines how demand grew by 3% in 2020 and states that this trend is set to continue and accelerate in all key sectors this year. It forecasts that 20201 could see the largest year-on-year growth in record, with solar and wind accounting for two-thirds of the growth. Globally, solar and wind could take 30% of the global share of electricity generation this year, up from 27% in 2019.

China, the US, the EU and India are named as the nations set to account for the largest shares of new renewable electricity generation capacity this year.

On electrification, the report states that electricity demand will grow by 4.5% year-on-year in 2021 – the biggest increase in more than a decade. The IEA attributes this more to electrification and to improved access in developing economies than to inefficiencies.

The report comes after analysis from Carbon Tracker last week outlined how renewables could push fossil fuels out of the electricity mix by the mid-2030s.  

Sarah George



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