Wednesday, July 7, 2021

CO2 Emissions take a Breather for Covid

from IEA

The International Energy Agency, IEA, has released its 2020 world CO2 emissions review. As you have probably heard or read the lock downs associated with the Covid-19 pandemic caused a significant economic slowdown and reduced global carbon emissions, albeit temporarily. Global energy-related CO2 emissions fell by 5.8% according to IEA, this was the largest annual percentage decline since World War II. 

In different parts of the world, the pandemic impacted emissions in different ways. According to the IEA: "On average, advanced economies saw the steepest declines in annual emissions in 2020, averaging drops of almost 10%, while emissions from emerging market and developing economies fell by 4% relative to 2019." While most economies saw a decline of emissions. China was the only major economy to record an increase in annual CO2 emissions in 2020.

The IEA based in Paris was established in November 1974 in response to the global oil crisis created by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) oil embargo. Its primary mandate was to promote energy security amongst its member countries. Over the years the mission has evolved to include holding global warming at 1.5-2.0°C by providing policy recommendations for ways to ensure reliable, clean energy for its 28 member countries (which includes the United States). 

In all the years that the IEA has been collecting data on carbon dioxide emissions, there have only been four times in which emissions have stood still or fallen compared to the previous year, and all were associated with global economic weakness: the early 1980's; 1992 and 2009 and now a pandemic. Many international borders were closed and populations were confined to their homes, which reduced the use of fuel for transportation and changed consumption patterns. 

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, emissions of carbon dioxide had been on average rising by about 1% per year world wide for the past decade (though there was no growth in 2019). Renewable energy use has been expanding rapidly, but much of the renewable energy is being deployed alongside existing fossil energy, not replacing it. Meanwhile CO2 emissions from transportation has continued to rise. (Le Quere, Jackson et al) 

In China, the world’s largest CO2 emitter and the first country to be impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, CO2 emissions dropped by 12% in February relative to the same month in 2019, as economic activity was curtailed. In April, China’s economic recovery lifted its monthly CO2 emissions above their 2019 level. For the remainder of the year, emissions in China were on average 5% higher than 2019 levels.

Scientists once hoped that CO2 emissions could be held below the “tipping point,” now the plan is to quickly reach peak emissions and then reverse course reducing global net human-caused CO2 emissions by about 45 % from 2010 levels by 2030 and reaching ‘net zero’ emissions around 2050. (Forbes, 2019). Peak emissions will occur when China and India peak in their emissions. The United States and European Union emissions have been falling and are rapidly becoming irrelevant to controlling CO2 emissions, though the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is still the key element that mankind can change.

 Global CO2 emissions have continued to grow and scientists are forecasting that atmospheric CO2 concentrations will reach 560 ppm by 2060. Science Magazine published an excellent review and summary by Paul Voosen at this link. The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is still the key element that mankind can change, but the climate change for the next 20-30 years is pretty much baked into the existing level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide has a long lifetime in the atmosphere. Thus, even if the emissions of greenhouse gases were to be sharply curtailed to bring them back to natural levels immediately,  Earth will continue warming for the rest of the century.

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