CO2 highest ever in 2021

In March 2022, the International Energy Agency (IEA) reported that global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions rose by 2.1 billion tonnes (6%) in 2021 to 36.3 billion tonnes (36.3 Gt). We summarise some of the key components of the report below:

Economic recovery is unsustainable

The Earth took a breather as production slowed down when COVID hit, during 2019/2020. Global CO2 emissions actually fell by 5.2%. 2021 saw accelerated economic recovery that left us with the highest ever amount of greenhouse gas emissions from energy.

CO2 emissions from coal

China’s economic growth was responsible for 33% of the global increase, largely due to coal to generate electricity. Coal was responsible for over 40% of the 2.1 billion tonnes increase. Coal emissions reached 15.3 billion tonnes.

Global Transport emissions decreased

On 2021 global transportation, the report points out that “CO2 emissions from oil remained significantly below pre-pandemic levels because of the limited recovery…mainly in the aviation sector.” Demand has dropped by more than 6 million barrels compared to 2019 levels, and emissions are 1134 million tonnes lower than 2020. Although not in the report, this does also suggest there’s been a positive impact due to the faster adoption of electric vehicles.

Annual change in CO2 emissions by sector (2020)

SOURCE: IEA, Annual change in CO2 emissions by sector, 2020, IEA, Paris

Meaning of Gigaton (Gt) megatonnes (Mt)

To help clear up some technical language, the Global Energy Review: CO2 Emissions in 2021 report (IEA, 2022) mentions gigatonnes (Gt) – there are 1 billion tonnes in a Gt. It also mentions megatonnes (Mt) – there are 1 million tonnes, or 1 billion kilograms in a Mt. That’s a lot of CO2!

Final warning for ambitions to reach net zero targets

The report warned that we need to ensure that we get back on track; accelerate clean energy innovations and make the sustainability investments, to keep Net Zero targets possible. We simply cannot have another increase in 2022. It’s time to switch to clean energy.


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