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Global carbon emissions dropped by 5.8% in 2020 due to slowed economic activity as a result of the pandemic, the largest annual percentage decline since World War II. However, major economies led a rebound in December 2020, when emissions were 2%, or 60 million tonnes, higher than in December 2019.

That’s according to the latest report from the International Energy Agency (IEA), with data suggesting that emissions are now climbing to above pre-crisis levels.

The study finds that around 2 million tonnes less of carbon dioxide were emitted last year, the equivalent of removing all of the European Union’s emissions from the global total.

While most economies recorded a decline of 5-10% in 2020, China – the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gasses – was the only economy that saw an increase in emissions, which rose 0.8%, or 75 million tonnes above 2019 levels.

India, the world’s third largest emitter, rose above 2019 levels from September 2020, as economic activity increased, and restrictions were relaxed.

The pandemic prompted the unprecedented decline of almost 2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2020, as national lockdowns and other restrictions limited industrial activity and transport. With fewer planes in the air and cars on the road, emissions from transport fell by 14% from 2019 levels.

The share of renewables rose from 27% to 29%, and emissions fell by 3.3% in the global power sector – the largest absolute fall on record.


Dr Fatih Birol, IEA Executive Director, said:

“The rebound in global carbon emissions toward the end of last year is a stark warning that not enough is being done to accelerate clean energy transitions worldwide.


If governments don’t move quickly with the right energy policies, this could put at risk the world’s historic opportunity to make 2019 the definitive peak in global emissions.


This year is pivotal for international climate action and it began with high hopes, but these latest numbers are a sharp reminder of the immense challenge we face in rapidly transforming the global energy system.”


In May 2020 the climate advisory body wrote to Boris Johnson urging for major decarbonisation projects to become a central pillar of any economic resilience plans.

Heat Networks