After 2020’s dramatic clean air in cities across the world, most countries are now back to pre-pandemic carbon emissions, says the Global Carbon Project. At the height of the pandemic last year, emissions were down to 34.8 billion metric tons.
The first nine months of 2021 put emissions a tad under 2019 levels. Scientists estimate the world will have emitted 36.4 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide, compared to 36.7 billion metric tons two years ago. According to the Global Carbon Project, fossil fuel emission that dropped down by 5.4% in 2020 amid COVID-19 lockdowns, has roared back with an increase of 4.9% this year. This amounts to an addition of 36.4 billion tons. It highlighted that coal and gas use are set to grow more in 2021 than they fell in 2020, but oil use remains below 2019.
Corinne LeQuere, a climate scientist at the University of East Anglia in the UK, study co-author, said China’s pollution increase was mostly responsible for worldwide figures bouncing back to 2019 levels rather than dropping significantly below them. “It’s not the pandemic that will make us turn around,” LeQuere said at COP26 in Glasgow. “It’s the decisions that are being taken this week and next week. That’s what’s going to make us turn the corner. The pandemic is not changing the nature of our economy.”
Michael Mann, a climate scientist from Pennsylvania State University, highlighted that emissions have basically flattened now, but that’s not enough. “We need to start bringing emissions down.”
LeQuere said China’s jump was mostly from burning coal and natural gas, and was part of a massive economic stimulus to recover from the lockdown. “China’s lockdown ended far earlier than the rest of the world, so the country had longer to recover economically and pump more carbon into the air. The green recovery that many nations have talked about in their stimulus packages take longer to show up in emission reductions because rebounding economies first use the energy mix they already had,” she explained.
The Global Carbon Project stated that Europe, with 2.8 billion tonnes is set to contribute 7% while India with 2.7 billion tonnes will contribute close to 7% of global emission as well. Compared to 2019, the pre-COVID era, the US will emit 3.7% less, while Europe will do marginally better with emission levels sliding down by comparison to the same benchmark.
The study noted that the rapid rebound in emissions as economies recover from the COVID-19 pandemic reinforces the need for immediate global action on climate change.