Our Burning Planet


Global CO2 emissions rebounded to their highest level yet in 2021 — International Energy Agency

Global CO2 emissions rebounded to their highest level yet in 2021 — International Energy Agency
From left: Adobe Stock | Unsplash | Eskom’s Arnot coal-fired power station in Mpumalanga. (Photo: Waldo Swiegers / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

In a new analysis, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has found that global energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions rose by 6% in 2021 to 36.3 billion tonnes, their highest level yet.

While parts of the developed world slowly emerged from the worst impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic last year, another crisis was speeding up.

In a new analysis, the International Energy Agency (IEA) found that global energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions rose by 6% in 2021 to 36.3 billion tonnes, their highest-yet level as the world economy rebounded from the pandemic and relied heavily on coal to power that growth.

The IEA noted that “the increase in global CO2 emissions of over two billion tonnes was the largest in history in absolute terms, more than offsetting the previous year’s pandemic-induced decline”.

It continued: “Combined with the methane emissions estimates… and estimates of nitrous oxide and flaring-related CO2 emissions, the new analysis shows that overall greenhouse gas emissions from energy rose to their highest-ever level in 2021.”

The IEA’s analysis noted that “CO2 emissions from natural gas rebounded well above their 2019 levels to 7.5 billion tonnes”, while “at 10.7 billion tonnes, CO2 emissions from oil remained significantly below pre-pandemic levels because of the limited recovery in global transport activity in 2021, mainly in the aviation sector”. Coal — climate change enemy number one — accounted for more than 40% of the overall growth in global CO2 emissions in 2021, reaching an all-time high of 15.3 billion tonnes, the IEA explained.



Our Burning Planet previously reported that the amount of electricity generated worldwide from coal surged by an estimated 9% to a record high in 2021.

The IEA’s analysis is important because rapidly reducing global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions is an increasingly urgent and necessary task if humanity is to limit an increase in the average global temperature to below 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Beyond 1.5°C is what is considered “dangerous climate change”.



The analysis came just days after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report that has been described by the United Nations secretary-general as an “atlas of human suffering”.

The IPCC’s Working Group II report, put together by 270 scientists from 67 countries, laid out the latest evidence of how the impacts of accelerating climate change are affecting nature and people.

Some of the key findings of that report include “human-induced climate change, including more frequent and intense extreme events, has caused widespread adverse impacts and related losses and damages to nature and people, beyond natural climate variability” and that “global warming, reaching 1.5°C in the near term, would cause unavoidable increases in multiple climate hazards and present multiple risks to ecosystems and humans.” DM/OBP


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Absa OBP

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Harro von Blottnitz says:

    Is it too early to talk about distant ‘netzero’ targets when the peak has not even been reached yet? It’s been looking for a few years like we’re near the peak (2014-2016 looked good), but the turning point keeps evading us. Efforts to reduce emissions must be strengthened!

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