Most countries nowhere near net-zero emissions
By John Kemp
JOHANNESBURG - The global energy system has become greener over the last decade, but most countries are nowhere near on track to achieve net zero emissions by the middle of this century.
Net zero has become symbolically and diplomatically important for policymakers, but the goal will remain far out of reach without much faster change.
In recent years, energy consumption has become less carbon-intensive, but not fast enough to offset the rapid increase in energy use as a result of rising populations, incomes, and demand for energy services in developing countries.
Worldwide energy consumption rose at a compound annual rate of 1.9 percent in the 10 years before the Covid-19 pandemic while energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions rose at an average rate of 1.4 percent.
Replacing coal-fired power generation by gas, wind and solar, as well as improvements in combustion efficiency, has reduced emissions per unit of energy consumption in most countries.
But underlying increases in energy demand drove a rise in total energy-related emissions, according to estimates from BP.
In the advanced economies of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), energy consumption increased only slightly (0.4 percent a year) while emissions fell (0.4 percent a year).
There were significant annual emissions reductions in Denmark (4 percent), Britain (2.8 percent), Italy (1.8 percent), France (1.7 percent), Spain (1.3 percent), Germany (1 percent) and the US (0.6 percent).
In developing economies outside the OECD, however, there were large annual increases in both energy consumption (averaging 3.1 percent) and emissions (averaging 2.5 percent).
There were large average emissions increases in Brazil (2.3 percent), China (2.5 percent) and India (4.5 percent), and even faster increases in Indonesia (5 percent), the Philippines (6.5 percent), Bangladesh (8 percent) and Vietnam (10.8 percent).
OECD energy-related emissions peaked as long ago as 2007, but there is no sign of a similar peak in the rest of the world (BP Statistical Review of World Energy, 2020).
As a result, global energy-related CO2 emissions hit a record 34.2 billion tons in 2019, up from 29.7 billion tons in 2009 and 23.1 billion tons in 1999.
The Covid-19 pandemic, quarantines, and business cycle downturn are likely to have cut energy consumption and emissions last year.
However, as the economy recovers, lockdowns ease and world passenger aviation resumes, energy consumption and emissions are likely to increase again and will probably hit a new record by 2023/24.
Political leaders of the US, EU and China have all committed to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 or 2060.
These commitments will be the centre of public and media attention in the run up to the UN climate summit in Britain in November.
Policymakers have identified a suite of technologies that could reduce net emissions to zero by mid-century: efficiency gains; electrification; wind, solar and nuclear power; carbon capture and storage; and hydrogen. But what is missing is a convincing roadmap for their deployment.