The writer is former chairperson, UP Forest Corporation; former principal secretary, forest & environment; former chairman, UP Pollution Control Board, and former Honorary Secretary, Indian Institute of Public Administration (IIPA), UP Regional Branch
Greenhouse gas emissions dipped in 2019 due to the Corona Virus pandemic and subsequent lockdown. But, in 2021, this dip has nearly reversed. This is in spite of the fact that much of the global economy has not yet fully recovered. The rise in global emissions in 2021 has been notably faster than estimated last year. While global emissions fell by 5.4 % in 2020, they are expected to rise by 4.9 percent by the end of 2021, according to the report released by the Global Carbon Project. The sixteenth annual Global Carbon Project (GCP) report says that the world will release 36.4 billion metric tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by the end of 2021, nearly equal to the 36.7 billion metric tonnes released in 2019.
While emissions of most countries will remain below 2019 levels in 2021, China and India are two major emitter countries which stand out for having significantly larger emissions. The figures below show the changes in emission in major emitting countries and regions between 2019and 2020, 2020 and 2021, and between 2019 and 2021.
Change from 2019 to 2021:
US : -3.7%
India : +4.4%
Change from 2020 to 2021:
US : + 7.6%
China : +4%
India : +12.6%
Change from 2019 to 2020:
2. EU : -10.9%
3. China : +1.4%
4. India : -7.3%
(Data from the Global Carbon Project)
India’s emissions fell by 7% in 2020 , but grew by 13% in 2021 for an overall increase in emissions of 4.4% between 2019 and 2021. While the increase in Indian emissions between 2019 and 2021 is similar to that of China on a percentage basis, the actual emissions increase in China was approximately five times larger. China stands out as the only major emitting country to increase its emissions in 2020, reflecting the relatively modest impact of Covid 19 on its economy. Chinese emissions increased by 1.4% between 2019 and 2020, and by 5.5% between 2019 and 2021, representing the largest contributor to the increase in global emissions. As the GCP points out: “The global growth in fossil CO2 emissions mainly arises from the growth in coal use in the power and industry sectors in China”.
By contrast, emissions fell by around 11% in the US, 11% in the EU and 7% in the rest of the world between 2019 and 2020. They remain 3.7% below 2019 levels in the US in 2021, 4.2% below 2019 levels in the EU and 4.2% below in the rest of the world. Overall, fossil CO2 emissions are expected to rise by around 4.9% in 2021 with many countries /regions contributing to the recovery in emissions from 2020 level. Global emissions will almost fully rebound, remaining only around 0.8% below 2019’s record levels, and are likely set a new record for fossil CO2 emissions in 2022.
Global fossil fuel emissions primarily result from the combustion of coal, oil and natural gas. Coal is responsible for more emissions than any other fossil fuel, representing approximately 41% of global fossil CO2 emissions. Oil is the second largest contributor at 32% of fossil CO2 emissions, while gas rounds out the pack at 21%. These percentages reflect both the amount of each fossil fuel consumed globally, but also differences in CO2 intensities. Coal results in the most CO2 emitted per unit of heat or energy produced, followed by oil and natural gas.
The GCP authors caution that there is a real risk of global coal use continuing to grow and exceeding its 2014 peak in the next few years, given its current rapid growth. This is despite recent progress in restricting the financing of new coal plants. The most growth in coal capacity in the next few years is expected to be driven by domestic Indian and Chinese plants. There was decline in emissions from all three fuels in 2020. The largest drop of nearly 10 percent was in oil emissions. This was because transportation was significantly curtailed during the height of the pandemic. Coal use also fell by about 4 percent in 2020,while gas use fell by about 2%.The emissions due to all the three fuels have rebounded in 2021, with coal emissions up more than 5% and both gas and oil emissions up 4% compared to 2020 levels.
GCP projects that as compared to pre-pandemic emissions of 2019, 2021 will see 2% higher gas emissions and 1% higher coal emissions for electricity and industry. Oil emissions are likely remained nearly 6% below pre-pandemic levels, reflecting slow changes to transportation use. Emissions in 2021 remain slightly below their pre-pandemic 2019 peak in large part due to persistent declines in oil use following the pandemic. The scientists said next year could set a new record for global emissions as travel and crude oil use increase. The recent 2021 WEO (World Energy Outlook) projects that global emissions will rebound past 2019 levels by 2022 or 2023.
World leaders are trying to work out strategies to prevent a global average temperature increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius, which is the threshold necessary for avoiding the worst impacts of climate change. However, the report estimates that this milestone will be surpassed in just 11 years at the current rate of pollution. To achieve net-zero by 2050 , we must cut emissions every year by an amount comparable to that seen during Covid.
Over the past decade, global CO2 net emissions from land-use change were 4.1 billion tonnes, with 14.1 billion tonnes CO2 emitted by deforestation and other land-use changes , and 9.9 billion tonnes CO2 removed by re-growth of forests and soil recovery. Removals by forests and soils have grown in the last two decades while emissions by deforestation and other land-use changes remained relatively stable, suggesting a recent decline in net emissions from land-use change, although with a large attached uncertainty.
When combining CO2 emissions from fossil sources and net land-use change, total emissions have remained relatively constant in the last decade, averaging 39.7 billion tonnes CO2. Reaching net zero CO2 emissions by 2050 entails cutting global CO2 emissions by about 1.4 billion tonnes each year. Emissions fell by 1.9 billion tonnes in 2020. So, to achieve net zero by 2050 , we must cut emissions every year by an amount comparable to that seen during COVID. This highlights the importance of COP26 discussions. Let us hope that all the major emitter countries will take all possible steps to cut emissions to reach the goal of net zero by 2050.