the COVID effect already erased – {Science²}

The latest report from the International Energy Agency confirms this: the call for a way out of the climate-compatible health crisis has not been heard. Despite activity restrictions still in place, the year 2021 has seen such a rebound in CO emissions2 related to fossil fuels that the 2020 trough has already been erased. Plus 6% and a total of 36.3 billion tons sent to the atmosphere. A figure boosted by the price effect: in 2021, gas began the now explosive rise in its prices, which shifted electricity production to coal, which emits even more CO2particularly in the United States and Europe.

CO2 emissions linked to fossil fuels and industry (cement, steel) reached a new peak in 2021 according to the International Energy Agency.

The rebound in 2021 is spectacular, since, with more than 2 billion tonnes, it is the strongest ever recorded in history.

The dramatic rebound in emissions in 2021 is the strongest on record according to the International Energy Agency.

Despite the effects of the Russian war in Ukraine, 2022 is likely to set a new emissions record. And this inability of the world to truly commit to phasing out fossil fuels can also be seen in public and private efforts for low-carbon, renewable and nuclear energies, and energy savings. These efforts may seem significant, since the IEA lists around 400 billion per year for the period 2021 to 2023. But this represents only 40% of those considered necessary to achieve carbon neutrality in 2050.

the IEA is going green

We understand, then, why the IEA publishes recommendations that seem to date back to the years 1973-1976 aimed quite simply at saving energy by quickly mobilizing anti-waste means. Hence, for example, this table where we find measures such as the reduction in authorized speeds on the motorways, carpooling, the use of teleworking, public transport and cycling. And even to prefer the night or high-speed train to planes… it’s like reading an eco-friendly manifesto.

The environmental recommendations of the International Energy Agency to save oil.

If we look in more detail at the origin of the tremendous rebound in fossil fuel consumption in 2021, the underlying reasons for it are brought to light.

fossil gas

the coal, alone, is responsible for 40% of the growth in emissions, with 15.3 billion tonnes in total. Those due to fossil gas (an adjective probably more effective than that of “natural” if we want the population to become more aware of its climate effect) reached 7.5 billion tonnes, therefore above the level of 2019. While emissions due to oilwith 10.7 billion tonnes, remains well below the pre-pandemic level due to the restrictions still in place for tourism, in particular air travel (which means that the resumption of this activity, long awaited in some poor countries , will cause additional bounce).

If we look by geographical origin, it is in China that we must look for one of the largest increases in emissions, with more than 750 million tonnes between 2019 and 2021. In 2021, Chinese emissions reached 11, 9 billion tons, 33% of the world total. But before shouting haro on Chinese, it is useful to compare two pieces of information.

The first is that of the virtual disappearance of extreme poverty (in the UN sense, people living on approximately less than 2 constant dollars a day) in some thirty years in China, as shown in the following graph:

The evolution of the number of extreme poor in the world is marked by their virtual disappearance in East Asia, mainly in China. Source World in data.

Reconcile this crucial information with the evolution of CO emissions2 related to fossil fuels in China over this period, leads to a simple conclusion: it is with and thanks to these energies that this major result was obtained:

CO2 emissions linked to fossil fuels and cement in China, source: JRC report 2021.

The increase in Chinese emissions in 2021 is largely due to electricity consumption, which increased by 10%, faster than GDP, which was “content” with 8.4%. This increase corresponds to a production of 700 TWh (total French consumption in 2021 was 468 TWh), half of which comes from coal. To judge the growth potential of Chinese electricity, it suffices to compare the electricity consumption per capita in China, less than 5,000 kWh per year, and in the United States, more than 12,000 kWh (about 7,000 kWh in France, these figures are rounded to the nearest thousand).

India, another very populous and still very poor country, has seen its CO emissions2 of 2021 exceed those of 2019, with in particular a 13% increase in electricity generated from coal compared to 2020.

These figures show that the increase in low-carbon electricity production, despite new records (8,000 TWh produced by renewables in 2021, i.e. 500 more than the previous year, including 270 for wind power and 170 for solar) is still far from being able to take over from coal and gas.

Sylvestre Huet

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