Global carbon dioxide emissions reach highest level in history

Updated: Mar 12

10 March, 2022 Worldwide emissions of carbon dioxide – the greenhouse gas most responsible for global warming – have rebounded to their highest level in history as the world economy rebounded strongly from the COVID-19 crisis and relied heavily on coal to power that growth.

A report prepared by the International Energy Agency (IEA) found that emissions of carbon dioxide rose by 6% in 2021 to 36.3 billion metric tons. The numbers make clear that the global economic recovery from the COVID-19 crisis has not been the sustainable recovery that the IEA called for during the early stages of the pandemic in 2020.

The burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas releases "greenhouse" gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane into Earth's atmosphere and oceans. The emissions have caused the planet's temperatures to rise to levels that cannot be explained by natural factors, scientists say. In the past 20 years, the world's temperature has risen about two-thirds of a degree Fahrenheit, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said.

Coal accounted for more than 40% of the overall growth in global CO2 emissions in 2021, reaching an all-time high of 15.3 billion metric tons, according to the IEA. CO2 emissions from natural gas rebounded well above their 2019 levels to 7.5 billion metric tons. The rebound of global CO2 emissions above pre-pandemic levels has largely been driven by China, where emissions increased by 750 million metric tons from 2019 to 2021. China was the only major economy to experience economic growth in both 2020 and 2021, the IEA said. Meanwhile, in the United States, CO2 emissions in 2021 were 4% below their 2019 level.