International Energy Agency predicts record decline in carbon emissions in 2020

A report by the International Energy Agency predicts a record decline in carbon emissions of almost 8% in 2020.

The COVID-19 pandemic has represented the biggest shock to the global energy system in more than seven decades, with the drop in demand this year set to dwarf the impact of the 2008 financial crisis.

A recent report by the International Energy Agency has provided some hopeful news about a global decline in carbon emissions and an increase in renewable electrical energy.

It predicts that energy-related CO2 emissions are set to fall by almost 8% in 2020, reaching their lowest level since 2010.

The report by the International Energy Agency was based on an analysis of more than 100 days of real data so far this year with the IEA’s Global Energy Review including estimates for how energy consumption and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions trends are likely to evolve over the rest of 2020.

It also predicts Solar PV and wind are on track to help lift renewable electricity generation by 5% in 2020, aided by higher output from hydropower.

Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA Executive Director said: “This is a historic shock to the entire energy world. Amid today’s unparalleled health and economic crises, the plunge in demand for nearly all major fuels is staggering, especially for coal, oil and gas. Only renewables are holding up during the previously unheard-of slump in electricity use.

“It is still too early to determine the longer-term impacts, but the energy industry that emerges from this crisis will be significantly different from the one that came before.”

The Global Energy Review’s projections of energy demand and emissions for 2020 are based on assumptions that the lockdowns implemented around the world are progressively eased in most countries in the coming months, accompanied by a gradual economic recovery.

A recent report by the International Energy Agency has provided some hopeful news about a global decline in carbon emissions. (Marcin Jozwiak, Pexels)

Another prediction is that global demand in coal is set to drop 8%, the largest decline since World War Two and, following its 2018 peak, coal-fired power generation is set to fall by more than 10% this year.

The report also projects that energy demand will fall 6% in 2020 – seven times the decline after the 2008 global financial crisis. The decline is estimated to equal the equivalent of losing the entire energy demand of India, the world’s third largest energy consumer. 

The impact of the crisis on energy demand is heavily dependent on the duration and stringency of measures to curb the spread of the virus. For instance, the IEA found that each month of worldwide lockdown at the levels seen in early April, reduces annual global energy demand by about 1.5%.

Changes to electricity use during lockdowns have resulted in significant declines in overall electricity demand. Full lockdowns have pushed down electricity demand by 20% or more, with lesser impacts from partial lockdowns. Electricity demand is set to decline by 5% over the whole of 2020, the largest drop since the Great Depression in the 1930s.

At the same time, lockdown measures are driving a major shift towards low-carbon sources of electricity including wind, solar PV, hydropower and nuclear.

Electricity generation from wind and solar PV continues to increase in 2020, lifted by new projects that were completed in 2019 and early 2020.

This trend is affecting demand for electricity from coal and natural gas, which are finding themselves increasingly squeezed between low overall power demand and increasing output from renewables. As a result, the combined share of gas and coal in the global power mix is set to drop by 3 percentage points in 2020 to a level not seen since 2001.

While the growth of renewable electricity is set to be lower than in previous years and nuclear power, another major source of low-carbon electricity, is on track to drop by 3% this year from the all-time high it reached in 2019, it still offers a promising comparison to CO2 emissions.

As a result of these trends – mainly the declines in coal and oil use – global energy-related CO2 emissions are set to fall by almost 8% in 2020, reaching their lowest level since 2010. This would be the largest decrease in emissions ever recorded – nearly six times larger than the previous record drop of 400 million tonnes in 2009 that resulted from the global financial crisis.

Dr Birol added: “If the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis is anything to go by, we are likely to soon see a sharp rebound in emissions as economic conditions improve. But governments can learn from that experience by putting clean energy technologies – renewables, efficiency, batteries, hydrogen and carbon capture – at the heart of their plans for economic recovery.

“Investing in those areas can create jobs, make economies more competitive and steer the world towards a more resilient and cleaner energy future.”

On this day…

In 1802…  Washington, D.C. was incorporated as a city after Congress abolished the Board of Commissioners, the District’s founding government. The “City of Washington” was given a mayor-council form of government.

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