According to the newly released BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2o21, global energy demand fell by an estimated by 4.5% in 2020. This is the largest annual decline since the end of World War II.
The plunge in energy demand was the largest factor behind the estimated 6% decline in global carbon dioxide emissions in 2020, which was also the largest such decline since World War II.
Today I want to talk about global trends in carbon dioxide emissions, using the data from the Review.
Global emissions of carbon dioxide in 2020 were 32.3 billion metric tons. When BP began reporting on carbon dioxide emissions in 1965, that number was 11.2 billion metric tons. In 55 years, the world has tripled its carbon emissions.
There have only been a couple of other times since 1965 that carbon emissions declined year-over-year, and both times they quickly bounced back and once again began to climb. Because global energy demand seems to have largely recovered this year, it’s likely that 2021 will mark the largest annual increase in carbon emissions since 1965.
Regionally, Asia Pacific is responsible for the largest share of carbon dioxide emissions, with more than double the combined emissions of the U.S. and the EU. The Asia Pacific region is home to both China and India, the world’s two most populous countries and two of the largest carbon dioxide emitters.
Although all three regions saw a decline in carbon dioxide emissions in 2020, China – the world’s largest carbon emitter — was one of a handful of countries to see a year-over-year increase in carbon emissions.
The world’s 10 largest emitters of carbon dioxide in 2020 were the same countries as in 2019. However, Iran jumped ahead of Germany and Saudi Arabia jumped ahead of Indonesia. Of the Top 10 emitters, only three have experienced a decline in emissions over the past decade. China is now responsible for nearly a third of global carbon emissions.
However, since 1965 no country has put more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than the United States. The 278 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide the U.S. has emitted to the atmosphere in the past 55 years represented 21.7% of global emissions during that time. China wasn’t too far behind with 218 billion metric tons emitted. At current emission rates, China will surpass the U.S. as the country with the most historical emissions in 11 years.
Regardless of the actions taken by developed countries, the primary driver of carbon dioxide emissions in coming decades will be areas of the world with huge populations, but with low, and growing per capita emissions. A small increase in those per capita emissions can result in a huge increase in overall emissions — amply demonstrated by Asia Pacific’s skyrocketing emissions.
Thus, the most pressing need in the world today is to ensure that countries can develop without a heavy reliance on coal and other fossil fuels, because this is the reason for the status quo — 2020 numbers notwithstanding.