Global emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) related to electricity generation broke a new record in 2021 and China was the main player in this increase.
A study by the International Energy Agency (IEA) says that the strong economic recovery after the Covid-19 crisis was the cause of the record increase to 36,000 million tons, above pre-pandemic levels. . The reason: the main economies resorted to coal generation to supply their rising demand. Coal accounted for more than 40% of the overall growth in global emissions.
The pause in the development of some renewable projects – which were intended to increase supply – and the high gas prices triggered the use of coal-fired power plants, many of them already with a downward trend in their use, promoted the greater use of coal. Record natural gas prices have made operating costs for coal plants considerably lower than combined cycle plants. This occurred mainly in the United States and Europe.
This source of generation grew greatly, despite the fact that production via renewable methods also saw its greatest growth and nuclear generation also increased.
During 2020, when the height of the pandemic was experienced, carbon dioxide emissions from electricity generation fell by 5.2%. But since then the world has seen a strong economic recovery fueled by fiscal stimulus and the rollout of vaccines in major economies.
The rebound has been largely driven by China, the only large-scale economy to achieve economic growth in the past two years, despite being the site of the first cases. From 2019 to 2021, the emission of carbon dioxide in the Asian giant increased by 750 million tons, to add almost 12,000 tons or about 33% of global emissions.
“With rapid GDP growth and further electrification of power services, China’s electricity demand grew by 10% in 2021, faster than economic growth by 8.4%. With demand growth outpacing supply growth from low-emission sources, coal was used to meet more than half of the increase in electricity demand.
The crisis unleashed in recent weeks after the Russian invasion of Ukraine could once again lead to an increase in the emission of polluting gases due to the sharp increase in the price of natural gas and Europe’s urgency to at least partially reduce imports of Russian gas. “Now the world must ensure that the global rebound in emissions in 2021 is exceptional – and that an accelerated energy transition contributes to global energy security and lower energy prices for consumers,” says the EIA.