Global energy-related CO2 emissions in 2020: the largest decline since World War II – IEA


The International Energy Agency (IEA) today shared its analysis on CO2 emissions during 2020. According to the organization, global energy-related CO2 emissions fell by 5.8%. In fact, this is the largest annual percentage decline since World War II.

Furthermore, this decline in emissions is without precedent in human history. Indeed, it consists of almost 2,000 million tonnes of CO2, which is the equivalent of removing all of the European Union’s emissions from the global total.

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IEA on global energy-related CO2 emissions decline in 2020

Earlier today, the International Energy Agency (IEA) shared its analysis regarding CO2 emissions in 2020. Accordingly, CO2 emissions declined by 5.8% (2,00 million tonnes), being the largest annual percentage decline in global energy-related emissions since World War II.

In fact, this emissions decline is without precedent in human history since it represents the equivalent of removing all of the EU’s emissions from the global total.

According to IEA, this change was primarily led by the Covid-19 pandemic and its financial results. Moreover, the crisis “impacted almost every aspect of how energy is produced, supplied, and consumed worldwide,” the agency stated.

Overall, demand for fossil fuels was hardest hit in 2020, especially oil, which plunged 8.6%, and coal dropped by 4%. Besides, global emissions from oil use plummeted by well over 1 100 Mt CO2, down from around 11 400 Mt in 2019.

Notably, the significant drop in road transport activity accounted for 50% of the decline in global oil demand, with the aviation sector accounting for 35%. Consequently, this led to a near 1 100 Mt drop in emissions from the industry.

Transport activity: the most affected

Furthermore, in contrast to pre-crisis levels, international aviation emissions fell by almost 45% or 265 Mt CO2 across the year.  Similarly, road transport presented a drop in demand of 10% relative to 2019.

Besides, the pandemic’s impact on global car sales was even more significant (15%). However, electric cars bucked this trend, with their sales growing by more than 40% in 2020 to over 3 million (primarily driven by policies in the European Union and China).

Accordingly, low-carbon fuels and technologies, particularly solar PV and wind reached their highest ever annual share of the global energy mix. For instance, those sectors increased their annual stake by more than one percentage point to over 20%.

Therefore, renewables accelerated their expansion in 2020, with a 50% increase in their contribution to lowering power sector emissions relative to 2019. Thus, the share of renewables in global electricity generation rose from 27% in 2019 to 29% in 2020, the most significant annual increase on record.

Nevertheless, IEA noted that monthly data show a rapid recovery of economic activity and rebounding CO2 emissions. On average, advanced economies saw the steepest declines in annual emissions in 2020, averaging drops of almost 10%. On the other hand, emissions from emerging markets and developing economies fell by 4% relative to 2019.

A rapid increase in emissions

However, several economies are rapidly increasing their emissions. For instance, the only major economy to record an increase in annual CO2 emissions in 2020 was China.

“As the first wave of the pandemic was brought under control by the middle of the year, emissions increased. They continued to rebound through the rest of the year,” IEA says.

Finally, last year, for the first time, the IEA began to track energy demand and CO2 emissions trends monthly; thus, in some cases, in real-time.

According to the organization, this tracking provides a valuable tool for understanding the pandemic’s impacts on the energy sector.

Notably, “the impact of the pandemic started to be felt in late February. And, by April, global emissions registered their largest monthly drop; when a majority of advanced economies experienced various forms of restrictions on movement and travel,” IEA reported.

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