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The International Energy Agency’s annual report on global energy use is out, with a look at energy sources, demand, and emissions as we head into the second year of the pandemic. The outlook is concerning: the IEA projects that “coal is set to roar back,” as the New York Times headline put it, with demand for the dirty fuel expected to rise 4.5%. Most coal plants are being retired in the U.S. and Europe, while China is building more new plants than it’s shutting down. The agency also expects demand for gas to be on the rise, hitting higher levels than before the pandemic. Renewable energy is also growing: 30% of electricity generation is projected to come from renewable sources this year.
Why This Matters: This trend should be concerning to all the government and private sector leaders assembling virtually at the Global Climate Summit. If these projections become reality, it puts global climate targets — and the chance to avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis — at risk. Many countries have promised to emerge from the pandemic sustainably, but that’s not the current global trajectory. Coal is “at the crux of critical political decisions that government leaders need to make this year if they are to transition to a green economy,” the New York Times writes. At the moment, coal is still the largest source of electricity worldwide, even as renewables and other sources of energy grow. In order to halve emissions by 2030, there’s no room for coal.
Other Highlights from the Report: The IEA report also has insights on carbon emissions, gas, and oil:
Nearly 70% of the expected increase in energy demand comes from “emerging markets and developing economies.”
While all fossil fuels are expected to “grow significantly” in 2021, “coal demand alone is projected to increase by 60% more than all renewables combined.” That puts global carbon emissions on track to surge by 1.5 billion tons, their second-largest annual increase on the books.
Renewable electricity generation is projected to rise by more than 8%, the fastest growth in decades.
Wind and solar are both expected to grow by more than 15%.
Gas is expected to have the biggest increase relative to 2019 levels, with Russia, as well as Asian and Middle Eastern countries increasing demand; the U.S. is already the largest market for gas. Many countries switching from coal are turning to gas, but the massive investments to deliver it could become obsolete infrastructure, since the methane emissions from the energy source don’t fit with the long-term climate strategy.
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