Post-pandemic emissions rebound puts the world on track for 1.5°C in 11 years

China's rising coal consumption is one of the main causes of the rebound, pushing global emissions up by 5.4% in 2021

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44% of emissions come from coal.

BarcelonaThe recovery from the covid-19 pandemic is once again driving up greenhouse gas emissions. The drop in CO₂ left by lockdown will remain a mere jolt, because the post-pandemic economic recovery plans are back on fossil fuels and moving us away from the change that science is calling for. The emissions rebound, in fact, puts the world on track to exceed the 1.5°C limit in 11 years. This is according to the latest analysis of global CO₂ emissions by the Global Carbon Project, presented on Thursday at the COP26 UN climate summit in Glasgow.

Global warming CO₂ emissions fell by 5.4% in 2020 due to pandemic containment, but are projected to rise by 4.9% in 2021, with some fossil fuels even exceeding their pre-pandemic 2019 emission levels. In fact, the only hydrocarbon not growing is oil, which will emit less in 2021 than it did in 2019, but both coal and natural gas emissions will again exceed 2019 levels.

The main cause of the large growth in emissions, in fact, is China's increased use of coal, which had been on a downward trend in recent years, but which has now started to increase its use again as a strategy to get out of the pandemic crisis. Moreover, in recent weeks Beijing has relied even more heavily on coal to meet electricity demand in the midst of the gas price crisis. China is the country that currently emits the most CO₂ in the world and during the 2020 pandemic emissions still grew by 1.4%, well below the usual rate but without negative numbers as in the rest of the major economic powers.

EU and USA are reducing emissions

India's CO₂ emissions are also set to rise again compared to 2019, according to this analysis. The EU-27's emissions, on the other hand, will rise by 7.6% in 2021 but will remain 4.2% below what it emitted in 2019. The United States is also growing but remains below pre-pandemic levels. Both Europe and the US are responsible for most of the CO₂ in the atmosphere today, as the largest historical emitters, so they would be due a more drastic reduction than emerging economies.

According to the analysis of the Global Carbon Project, the levels of recovery of emissions after the pandemic show an upward path that leads us to exceed 1.5 °C in less than 11 years; that is, if emissions in 2021 remain constant in the coming years (which is unlikely because the trend is to grow), the world will have emitted in 11 years all the carbon it is estimated that it can emit before causing this global warming of 1.5 °C. This is called the 1.5°C global carbon budget, now set at 420 billion tonnes of CO₂.

Along the same lines, the study calculates that - should 2021 levels be maintained - 1.7°C would be exceeded in 20 years and 2°C in 32 years.

The only good news in the report is that renewable energies continue on their upward path. However, the post-pandemic recovery plans of the world's major economies are underinvesting and reverting to a fossil fuel-based economy.