Climate Year in Review: 2021
The Global Carbon Project found that 36.4 gigatons of carbon dioxide were emitted during 2021. This means that global carbon emissions increased by 4.9% from 2020, leaving us just 0.8% from the all-time global high of 36.8 gigatons emitted set in 2019. Despite the fact that global emissions are lower than 2019 levels, this sharp rise was unexpected during a year where COVID-19 kept many people in their homes and slowed down businesses around the world.
The primary sources of global emissions are the following: coal (40% of emissions), oil (32% of emissions), natural gas (21% of emissions). Coal and gas have both surpassed their pre-pandemic levels, while oil still lies 6% below their 2019 levels.
Here is a graph from Statista that displays the trend in carbon emissions since 1940:
With the potential that the pandemic will slow down in the near future, climate scientists predict that 2022 has a high probability to beat out the historical high set in 2019. Even if the pandemic is to remain, the trend from 2021 shows that global emissions are still likely to increase. There are currently no signs that global carbon emissions will be on the decline in the upcoming years.
What This Means
Global Carbon Project leader and climate modeling researcher at the University of Exeter, Pierre Friedlinstein, stated, "we were expecting to see some rebound. What surprised us was the intensity and rapidity of the rebound."
Global leaders at the United Nations climate conference agreed to try to limit the rise in global temperature to a 1.5 degree Celsius increase. Climate scientists agree that to achieve this goal, global CO2 emissions must reach net-zero by 2050.
Pierre Friedlinstein stated the following about the direction CO2 emissions trended in 2021:
"Reaching net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050 entails cutting global CO2 emissions by about 1.4 billion tonnes each year on average. Emissions fell by 1.9 billion tonnes in 2020. So, to achieve net-zero by 2050, we must cut emissions every year by an amount comparable to that seen during COVID."
The rise in CO2 emissions, while expected, is not a step in the right direction. The increase in carbon emissions in 2021 will only exacerbate the issue at hand, demanding even more significant change in the future. The clock is ticking for global leaders to work out effective methods to reduce carbon emissions and mitigate the effects of global warming.
We have been warned about the threat that climate change poses for decades, and changes have still yet to come. The impact of climate change will not be seen immediately, but when it comes, it will wreak havoc on the lives of billions, affect our ability to harvest food and supply water, and destroy infrastructure in the most vulnerable parts of the world.
Carbon emissions have been steadily increasing for many years, and the dip we took in 2020 was simply not enough to get us on track for long. 2021 saw many governments and businesses return to their old ways before COVID-19. If we are to create a safer world in the following decades, there must be a massive push toward clean energy and eco-friendly solutions.