Changes towards clean energy have made progress, but not enough to limit global warming to below 2 °C, as agreed in the 2015 Paris climate agreement.
While the COVID-19 pandemic initially caused a drop in greenhouse gas emissions as economic activity declined, the pandemic may not have accelerated the shift to renewable energy:
Renewable energy is now the number two source of electricity in the world, with a 26 percent share in 2019 – behind coal, but ahead of natural gas and nuclear.
Wind and solar power have grown at annual rates of 22 and 36 percent, respectively, as their prices have fallen since 1990.
According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), even during the pandemic, 26 gigawatts (GW) of capacity was added last year, setting a new record.
But the use of fossil fuels in final consumption (electricity, transportation fuels, heating and factory production) has remained stagnant.
From 80.3 percent in 2009, it was still 80.2 percent in 2019, as population growth as well as rising incomes in Asia have led to an increase in overall energy consumption.
Sharp turns by automakers
Driven by stringent pollution regulations, major automakers are aiming to scrap internal combustion engines within the next decade or sharply cut their production as they move toward all-electric futures.
Roads are still crowded with polluting cars: Electric vehicles make up only five percent of new units sold.
The International Energy Agency says consumers continue to prefer larger SUVs – which accounted for 42 percent of their sales in 2020 – that pollute more than smaller models.
From Australia to China to the European Union, more and more nations are setting up their sites on green hydrogen for lorries and factories.
Burning hydrogen as a fuel produces only water, most of the gas formed in a process that produces harmful emissions.
More effort will be needed to find cost-effective ways to produce hydrogen cleanly and develop the infrastructure for its use, urging the IEA to quadruple investment in this area.
According to the I4CE think tank, some 44 countries and 31 cities had carbon pricing (taxes or quotas) schemes for 60 percent of global economic output in mid-2020.
Carbon prices are intended to help polluters pay for some of the social costs of emissions, such as health care costs due to poor air quality and crop damage due to climate change.
Experts say the price should range between $40 and $80 per tonne of CO2 to increase efficiency or move polluters to renewable energy sources.
However, the price is less than $10 for 75 percent of covered emissions.
The Rain 21 think tank said the coronavirus pandemic provided an opportunity for public policy to shift, but countries provided investment amounts six times more for fossil fuels than renewable energy projects in their economic recovery plans.
After a seven percent drop due to the pandemic, CO2 emissions are expected to hit new records by 2023 if those investments are not relocated.
Investment in renewable energy has been declining for several years in emerging and developing countries except China, and the coronavirus pandemic has done little to change the situation.
These countries hold two-thirds of the world’s population and are responsible for 90 percent of the increase in emissions, but according to the IEA, they are receiving only 20 percent of the investment in clean energy.
King Cole still reigns
Long ago baptized “king coal” for its outsized role in powering the world economy, the fuel is widely used in Asia to meet the region’s growing electricity needs.
The global economic recovery means that demand for coal is likely to exceed 2019 levels and thus retain its crown of being a major source of greenhouse gas emissions.
China, which has been a major financier of coal projects in other countries, announced in September that it was stopping the practice.
(Except for the title, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)