Carbon Dioxide Not Expected to Exceed 2019 Levels Again Until 2027

The International Energy Agency (IEA) Annual Report projects that because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there will be a 7 percent drop in energy-related carbon dioxide emissions in 2020 due to associated reductions in fossil fuel use, and that emissions of CO2 pollution will remain below 2019 levels until 2027.  The projection is based on an assumption that the virus is under control by the end of 2021, and that energy demand will start to rise again by 2023 due to the global economy bouncing back. But that CO2 emissions won’t return to 2019 levels for a few more years after that because while energy demand keeps rising, the percentage of renewable energy being used will also increase.  And now it is possible to visualize CO2 emissions in 3D across the U.S.

Why This Matters:  This is good news for air pollution in general as well as for climate change.  We needed to put the breaks on continual increases in CO2 emissions — and this was a hard way to do it.  But, but, but — methane emissions, an even more potent greenhouse gas, may not have declined at all during the pandemic.  And as the IEA’s Executive Director Fatih Birol put it, “Despite a record drop in global emissions this year, the world is far from doing enough to put them into decisive decline.”  Yup.

What Is the Energy Use Trajectory?

As laid out in The Hill, in 2020, global energy demand will decline by 5% and energy investment will drop by 18%, according to the report because the use of oil, coal, and natural gas will all decline this year.  In the long run, the IEA Report projects that oil demand will decline by 8%, coal by 7%, and natural gas by 3%.  Interestingly, the Report anticipates that coal will never return to pre-COVID levels, but instead will remain 8% lower than in 2019 all the way through 2030.  At the same time, the Report projects that oil demand will recover by 2023 and will continue to rise until 2030, and then it will plateau.

Visualizing CO2 Emissions in the US

Meanwhile, tools are being created to help federal, state and local regulators to cut CO2 emissions. In a study published last week in the Journal of Geophysical Research, Kevin Gurney of Northern Arizona State created visualizations that show the details of greenhouse gas emissions across the entire U.S. landscape at high space- and time-resolution with details on the economic sector, fuel, and combustion process. Gurney had previously developed and published emissions maps of several large cities, including the Los Angeles megacity, Indianapolis, the Washington, D.C./Baltimore metropolitan area and Salt Lake City.  Then, as part of the Vulcan Project funded by NASA, he was able to quantify and visualize greenhouse gases emitted across the entire country down to individual power plants, neighborhoods and roadways.  By drilling down to the sources of emissions, regulators at all levels can identify problem areas, thus enabling better decisions about where to cut emissions most effectively.

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