COVID-19 to slash global emissions by record 8%

The coronavirus crisis represents the biggest shock to the global energy system in more than seven decades, and will see carbon emissions fall by almost 8% this year, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has said today.


In a new report, the IEA also forecasts energy demand to fall by 6% in 2020 – seven times the decline recorded after the 2008 financial crash, and equivalent to losing the entire energy demand of India.

Advanced economies are expected to see the biggest declines, with demand set to fall by 9% in the US, and by 11% in the EU, although this depends on the duration and stringency of measures to curb the spread of COVID-19.

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%.

“This is a historic shock to the entire energy world,” said IEA executive director Dr Fatih Birol. “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 report includes analysis of more than 100 days of real data on the impact of coronavirus so far this year.

It shows that full lockdowns have pushed down electricity demand by 20% or more, and forecasts global demand to decline by 5% in 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. 

After overtaking coal for the first time ever in 2019, the report predicts low-carbon sources to extend their lead this year to reach 40% of global electricity generation – six percentage points ahead of coal. 

The combined share of gas and coal in the global power mix is set to drop by 3% in 2020 to a level not seen since 2001.

In total, global energy-related CO2 emissions are forecast to reach their lowest level since 2010, representing the largest decrease ever recorded, although the IEA warned against early celebrations.

“Resulting from premature deaths and economic trauma around the world, the historic decline in global emissions is absolutely nothing to cheer,” said Dr Birol. “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.”


Image credit: iStock


Chris Seekings is a reporter for TRANSFORM

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