World Falls Short of “Green Recovery” as Global Energy Demand Rebounds

Image: kallerna via Wikimedia Commons

By Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer

As global energy demand returns to pre-pandemic levels, energy and climate experts say that the world has failed to make use of the emissions advantage granted by a year in quarantine.

Although the U.S. and Europe have managed to lower their carbon footprint, it’s clear that the world’s energy infrastructure hasn’t changed enough to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Why This Matters: According to a recent report from the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world is hurtling toward climate catastrophe and could surpass 1.5 degrees of warming by 2040, as opposed to many countries’ timeline of 2050.

Energy experts say that the drop in emissions during the pandemic was a prime opportunity for governments to make significant investments in green energy infrastructure. Although some did, they haven’t been significant enough. As the COP26 Climate Conference in Glasgow approaches, countries will have to make more significant promises than ever before to ensure that the world meets an ever-tightening deadline to prevent catastrophe.

Lost Time: A new report from London-based think tank Ember found that while the U.S. and Europe lowered their emissions slightly, rising energy use led to increased emissions in China, Bangladesh, India, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Pakistan, and Vietnam. Still, while 2020 emissions levels in the U.S. were 16% lower than 2019, this year’s are only 4% lower than pre-pandemic levels. Additionally, although there was a sharp increase in solar and wind power, natural gas and coal use didn’t decrease significantly. 

Despite 2020’s emissions reprieve, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels reached an all-time high in May 2021. “Catapulting emissions in 2021 should send alarm bells across the world. We are not building back better; we are building back badly,” said Ember lead analyst Dave Jones. Climate experts say that without significant changes to the world’s underlying energy infrastructure, power grids won’t be able to support efforts to decarbonize, for example, President Biden’s push for electric vehicles. “Emissions are the result of a complex, massive and capital-intensive energy system, and the underlying infrastructure for how we make electricity, steel and much more did not change in the last 12 months,” Jason Bordoff, a dean of Columbia University’s climate school, explained. 

Meanwhile, another emissions giant, China, is struggling to balance emissions reductions with massive growth in power demand, and coal consumption greatly increased between 2020 and 2021. “China is still in the stage of deepening industrialization and urbanization,” said National Development and Reform Commission Vice Director Tang Dengjie. “With an increase in rigid demand for energy and resources, the time to achieve peak carbon emissions and carbon neutrality is tight, and the workload of that is heavy.” Climate experts and environmental activists hope that the COP26 conference in November will offer the world an opportunity to align new, more ambitious climate goals.

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