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12 October 2021

Carbon emissions from electricity have surged past pre-pandemic levels

In the first half of the year, CO2 emissions from electricity generation were an estimated 5 per cent higher than in the first half of 2019.

By Nick Ferris

The environmental impact of lockdown was one of the few positives of the Covid-19 pandemic. With commercial electricity demand lower and international transport suspended, annual global emissions fell by 7 per cent in 2020, an amount that is around the annual change the UN estimates will be needed to reach net zero by 2050.


But these gains have been wiped out in 2021, an analysis by the think tank Ember suggests. In the first half of the year, CO2 emissions from electricity generation were an estimated 5 per cent higher than in the first half of 2019, as demand for energy roared back to life amid the global economic recovery.

Major energy agencies, including the International Energy Agency and Opec, predict that demand for coal, natural gas and oil are all likely to exceed 2019 levels in 2021. A lack of fuel in the face of booming demand is a major factor behind the current global energy crisis, as world leaders prepare to head to Glasgow for crucial climate talks at COP26.

CO2 emissions from electricity are rising because renewables are unable to keep up with rising demand for electricity – even as record growth in solar and wind means they now provide one-tenth of global electricity.

“Catapulting emissions in 2021 should send alarm bells across the world,” said Ember’s Dave Jones. “We are not building back better, we are building back badly.”

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