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Global power sector emissions soar as rising demand outpaced growth in clean electricity

The mid-year update to Ember’s annual Global Electricity Review compares the first six months of 2021 to the same period in 2019 to show for the first time how the electricity transition has changed as the world rebounds from the impact of the pandemic.

The report found that rising global electricity demand outpaced growth in clean electricity, which led to an increase in coal power, raising CO2 emissions. Global power sector emissions rebounded in the first half of 2021, increasing 12 per cent from the lows seen in the first half of 2020 so that emissions are now 5 per cent above the pre-pandemic levels in the first half of 2019.

Source: EMBER

Global electricity demand also rose by 5 per cent in the first half of 2021 compared to pre-pandemic levels, which was mostly met by wind and solar power (57 per cent) but also an increase in emissions-intensive coal power (43 per cent) that caused the rise in CO2 emissions. Gas was almost unchanged, while hydro and nuclear saw a slight fall. For the first time, wind and solar-generated over a tenth of global electricity and overtook nuclear generation.

Ember also found that no country has yet achieved a truly ‘green recovery’ for their power sector, with structural change in both higher electricity demand and lower CO2 power sector emissions. Several countries including the EU achieved lower power sector CO2 emissions compared to pre-pandemic levels – with wind and solar replacing coal – but only in the context of suppressed demand growth. Countries with rising electricity demand also saw higher emissions, as coal generation increased as well as wind and solar.

“Catapulting emissions in 2021 should send alarm bells across the world,” said Dave Jones Global Programme Lead at Ember emphasising that we are not building back better, we are building back badly.

“A super-fast electricity transition this decade is critical to limit global heating to 1.5 degrees,” he added warning that the electricity transition is happening but with little urgency: “emissions are going in the wrong direction.”

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