Pollution From Power Generators Now Exceeds Pre-Pandemic Levels

Source: By Faseeh Mangi, Bloomberg • Posted: Wednesday, August 25, 2021

The world’s electricity generators are now polluting more than they did before the pandemic, putting global net-zero targets at risk.

Emissions from the power sector rebounded in the first half of the year and are now 5% higher than in the same period in 2019, prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a report by London-based researcher Ember. That’s because utilities are using more coal to meet electricity demand that also rose by 5%.

Coal is gaining traction just as nations push for more clean energy to reach ambitious commitments to reduce carbon emissions. The electricity transition will define global temperature rise more than any other sector this decade, the report said. Wind and solar supplied the majority of the world’s higher demand in the first half, but not by enough to curb the need for more coal, particularly in Asia.

“Catapulting emissions in 2021 should send alarm bells across the world,” Dave Jones, Ember’s global lead, said in a statement. “We are not building back better, we are building back badly.”

The U.S., Japan, Korea and the European Union reduced their power-sector emissions compared with pre-pandemic levels, primarily because of suppressed growth in electricity demand.

The report comes a month after the International Energy Agency forecast carbon emissions from the power sector to climb 3.5% this year and another 2.5% next year to a record high. But in order to reach net-zero climate goals, those emissions need to decline by 4.4% a year, the IEA has said.

“Rising CO2 emissions right now is a huge red flag that the world is off-course,” said the report by Ember released Aug. 25.

No country saw both higher electricity demand and notably lower emissions when generating power, Ember said. Russia and Norway capitalized on increased rainfall to boost their use of hydropower, but those gains were temporary.

For the first time, wind and solar generated more than 10% of the world’s electricity, overtaking nuclear power. Globally, renewable energy met 57% of the increased demand for electricity in the first half, and coal the rest.

China’s increase in coal power alone was greater than the EU’s total generation with the dirty source in the first half. That boosted China’s share of global coal generation to 53%, compared with 50% two years ago. The world’s most-populous nation has said it wants to be carbon-neutral by 2060.

Asia dominated the growth in electricity demand, led by Mongolia, China and Bangladesh, respectively. Those three plus Vietnam, Kazakhstan, Pakistan and India met that growth primarily by burning more coal.

China, India and Pakistan generated record amounts of electricity. Pakistan and Bangladesh didn’t add any wind or solar in the first half of the year.

Ember analyzed data from 63 countries representing 87% of global electricity production.