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Global Carbon Emissions Set to Push Past Pre-Pandemic Levels, IEA Warns

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Greenhouse gas emissions from energy production are just months away from blowing past the level they hit before the COVID-19 pandemic temporarily reduced demand, the International Agency warns in an analysis released this week.

“New figures from the global energy watchdog found that fossil fuel emissions climbed steadily over the second half of the year as major economies began to recover,” The Guardian reports. “By December 2020, carbon emissions were 2% higher than in the same month the year before.”

The numbers mean that “we are putting the historic opportunity to make 2019 the definitive peak of global emissions at risk,” said IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol. “If in the next few months governments do not put the right clean energy policies in place, we may well be returning to our carbon-intensive business as usual.”

He added that “this is in stark contrast with the ambitious commitments made by several governments, one after the other.”

It was the first time the Paris-based IEA had reported monthly emissions by region, and The Guardian says the analysis revealed a “strong correlation” between countries with green stimulus programs—like France, Spain, the UK, and Germany—and those that seemed to be doing the best at keeping emissions in check.

“Meanwhile, the countries that had made the smallest contributions to green economic stimulus measures, such as China, India, the United States, and Brazil, recorded steep carbon rebounds in the second half of last year as their economies began to reopen,” the paper adds.

“This is a clear signal that governments did not put as many green energy policies in their economic recovery packages as they should have,” Birol said. “We warned that if the policies were not put in place, we would go back to where we were before the [COVID-19] crisis—which is what is happening today.”

While it isn’t too late for countries to avoid an emissions rebound, “it is becoming a daunting task,” he added.

The Guardian has numbers for China, India, Brazil, and the European Union, with travel restrictions helping to hold EU emissions down 5% between December 2019 and December 2020. But a separate report by the non-profit CDP Europe and consultancy Oliver Wyman warned this week that emission reduction plans adopted to date by European businesses are consistent with 2.7°C average global warming, Bloomberg Green reports—far above a climate stabilization target of 1.5°C.

“The European corporate sector is running hot,” wrote CDP Europe Executive Director Maxfield Weiss. “We need far more action from corporates and financial institutions to make good on our goals.”

To align with a 1.5°C path, the report said, Europe’s economy would have to cut emissions 50% this decade, and at least 65% of the continent’s corporate sector would have to be “fully Paris-aligned” by then.

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