Drop in demand will result in a record annual decline in carbon emissions of almost 8%
The COVID-19 pandemic represents the biggest shock to the global energy system in more than seven decades, with the drop in demand this year set to dwarf the impact of the 2008 financial crisis and result in a record annual decline in carbon emissions of almost 8%. This is according to a new report by the International Energy Agency , which considers the pandemic’s impact across all major fuels.
“This is a historic shock to the entire energy world. 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,” said Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA executive director. “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.”
Renewables are set to be the only energy source that will grow in 2020, with their share of global electricity generation projected to jump thanks to their priority access to grids and low operating costs.
Despite supply chain disruptions that have paused or delayed deployment in several key regions this year, solar PV and wind are on track to help lift renewable electricity generation by 5% in 2020, aided by higher output from hydropower.
The Global Energy Review’s projections of energy demand and energy-related emissions for 2020 are based on assumptions that the lockdowns implemented around the world in response to the pandemic are progressively eased in most countries in the coming months, accompanied by a gradual economic recovery.
The report projects that energy demand will fall 6% in 2020 – seven times the decline after the 2008 global financial crisis. Advanced economies are expected to see the biggest declines, with demand set to fall by 9% in the United States and by 11% in the European Union.
Coal is particularly hard hit, with global demand projected to fall by 8% in 2020, the largest decline since the Second World War. Following its 2018 peak, coal-fired power generation is set to fall by more than 10% this year.
“This crisis has underlined the deep reliance of modern societies on reliable electricity supplies for supporting healthcare systems, businesses and the basic amenities of daily life,” said Dr Birol. “But nobody should take any of this for granted – greater investments and smarter policies are needed to keep electricity supplies secure.”
Despite the resilience of renewables in electricity generation in 2020, their growth is set to be lower than in previous years. Nuclear power, another major source of low-carbon electricity, is on track to drop by 3% this year from the all-time high it reached in 2019.
As a result of these trends – mainly the declines in coal and oil use – global energy-related CO2 emissions are set to fall by almost 8% in 2020, reaching their lowest level since 2010. This would be the largest decrease in emissions ever recorded – nearly six times larger than the previous record drop of 400 million tonnes in 2009 that resulted from the global financial crisis.
“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,” adds Dr Birol. “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.”
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