Power lines in Quill, Calif. On Thursday, June 17, 2021.
David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Carbon dioxide emissions from the global electricity sector rose to record highs in the first half of 2021, above pre-pandemic levels, according to a new study by London-based environmental think tank Ember.
Electricity needs and emissions are now 5% higher than they were before the Covid-19 outbreak, resulting in worldwide lockdowns that resulted in a temporary decrease in global greenhouse gas emissions. According to the analysis, the demand for electricity also outpaced the growth in renewable energies.
The results signal that countries have failed to achieve what is known as a “green recovery,” which would mean moving away from fossil fuels to renewable energies in order to avoid the worst effects of climate change.
According to the report, in 2020 61% of the world’s electricity came from fossil fuels. Last year five G-20 countries obtained more than 75% of their electricity from fossil fuels, Saudi Arabia 100%, South Africa 89%, Indonesia with 83%, Mexico with 75% and Australia with 75%.
Coal production fell by a record 4% in 2020, but overall coal provided 43% of the additional energy demand between 2019 and 2020. Asia currently generates 77% of the world’s coal electricity and China alone generates 53%, up from 44% in 2015.
The global transition from coal to power, which accounts for about 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions, is far too slow to avoid the worst effects of climate change, the study warned. And the International Energy Agency predicts that coal production will pick up again in 2021 as electricity demand picks up again.
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“The progress is nowhere near enough. Despite the record decline in coal during the pandemic, it still lagged behind what is needed, ”Dave Jones, chief analyst at Ember, said in a statement.
Jones said coal electricity consumption would have to plummet 80% by the end of the decade to avoid dangerous global warming above 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit).
“We need to build enough clean electricity to replace coal and electrify the world economy at the same time,” said Jones. “The world’s leaders have yet to become aware of the enormity of the challenge.”
The results come ahead of a major UN climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland, in November, where negotiators will push for more ambitious climate and emissions reduction commitments from nations.
Without immediate, rapid, and large-scale reductions in global emissions, scientists at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are warning that the average global temperature is likely to exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius within 20 years.
The study also showed some benefits. Wind and solar generation, for example, rose by 15% in 2020, produced almost a tenth of the world’s electricity last year and has doubled since 2015.
Some countries now get around 10% of their electricity from wind and solar energy, including India, China, Japan, Brazil. The US and Europe saw the greatest growth in wind and solar, with Germany at 33% and the UK at 29%.