Climate Crisis: Rich Countries’ Carbon Emissions Rose Rapidly in 2021


Carbon emissions are rebounding strongly and are rising across the world’s 20 richest nations, according to a new study.

The Climate Transparency Report, Comparing G20 Climate Action and Responses to the Covid-19 Crisis ( says that CO2 will go up by 4% across the G20 group this year, having dropped 6% in 2020 due to the pandemic.

The 2020 edition of the Climate Transparency Report unpacks recent developments and longer-term trends, providing key insights into where and how to advance climate action, including through greening the recovery from the COVID-19 crisis.

The Climate Transparency Report is the world’s most comprehensive annual review of G20 climate action, which provides concise and comparable information on mitigation, finance and vulnerability. Its funders include the World Bank Group. The Climate Transparency Report was previously known as Brown to Green Report.

This year’s report consists of two parts: the annual policy assessment based on data of the previous year(s) is complemented by an analysis of the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis and recovery efforts on countries’ climate ambition.

The report finds:

China, India, Argentina are set to exceed their 2019 emissions levels.

The report says that the continued use of fossil fuels is undermining efforts to rein in temperatures.

With just two weeks left until the critical COP26 climate conference opens in Glasgow, the task facing negotiators is stark.

The report said:

In a time of uncertainty, the G20 can harness the opportunities of a green recovery to set course for a more resilient and sustainable future. In the five years since the adoption of the Paris Agreement, there have been many lessons – some hard and some hopeful. G20 members should heed these lessons as they make decisions that will shape our common future.

With the world currently around 1.1C warmer than pre-industrial times, limiting future incremental increases is extremely challenging.

If Glasgow is going to succeed on this question, then the countries that create the most carbon will have to put ambitious policies into place.

The G20 group is responsible for around 75% of global emissions, which fell significantly last year as economies were closed down in response to Covid-19.

But this year’s rebound is being powered by fossil fuel, especially coal.

A temporary decrease in emissions will not have a lasting impact on the climate. Sustained annual decreases toward net-zero emissions by 2050 are necessary to arrest global warming. Efforts to use recovery measures to accelerate the decoupling of economic activity and CO2 emissions could help G20 countries to meet Paris Agreement goals.

According to the report, compiled by 16 research organizations and environmental campaign groups, coal use across the G20 is projected to rise by 5% this year.

This is mainly due to China who are responsible for around 60% of the rise, but increases in coal are also taking place in the US and India.

Coal use in China has surged with the country experiencing increased demand for energy as the global economy has recovered.

Coal prices are up nearly 200% from a year ago.

This in turn has seen power cuts as it became uneconomical for coal-fired electricity plants generate electricity in recent months.

With the Chinese government announcing a change in policy this week to allow these power plants to charge market rates for their energy, the expectation is that this will spur even more coal use this year.

When it comes to gas, the Climate Transparency Report finds that use is up by 12% across the G20 in the 2015-2020 period.

G20 leaders met in Italy in July amid protests from green groups about the slow pace of progress on climate

While political leaders have promised that the global recovery from Covid should have a green focus, the financial commitments made by rich nations do not bear this out.

Of the $1.8tn that has been earmarked for recovery spending, just $300bn will go on green projects.

To put that figure into context, it almost matches the $298bn spent by G20 countries in subsidizing fossil fuel industries in the year to August 2021.

G20 GDP is projected to decrease by around 4% in 2020, with devastating effects on many levels, exacerbating poverty, inequality, and unemployment. The decline in global GDP in 2020 could lead to an increase of 25 million people being unemployed, 100 million additional people living in poverty, and the number of people facing acute food insecurity doubling to 265 million.

The report points to some positive developments including the growth of solar and wind energy in richer countries, with record amounts of new capacity installed across the G20 last year.

Renewables now supply around 12% of power compared to 10% in 2020.

Politically, there has been significant progress as well with the G20 group as the majority recognizes that net zero targets are needed for around the middle of this century.

All members of the group have agreed to put new 2030 carbon plans on the table before the Glasgow conference.

Deforestation in Indonesia has been an important factor driving up emissions in recent years.

However, China, India, Australia and Saudi Arabia have not yet done so.

“G20 governments need to come to the table with more ambitious national emission reductions targets. The numbers in this report confirm we can’t move the dial without them – they know it, we know it – the ball is firmly in their court ahead of COP26,” said Kim Coetzee from Climate Analytics, who coordinated the overall analysis.

The report said:

More and more companies, regions, and cities are also making net-zero by 2050 commitments, such as Buenos Aires, Cape Town, London, Mexico City, New York City, and Tokyo. Political commitments need to make their way into enhanced NDC targets and long-term strategies – which are due to be updated in 2020 – and recovery packages.

Comparing G20 stimulus responses thus far:

  • 10 countries are providing support to the domestic coal sector and 10 provide support to the gas sector
  • 9 countries are providing support to the oil sector
  • 14 countries bailed out their national airline companies without conditions attached. Only France has included conditions in its bailout.
  • 7 countries are providing unconditional support to the automobile industry. Only Germany and France are providing support with environmental conditions attached. Nevertheless, 17 G20 countries (excluding Mexico, Russia, and Saudi Arabia) are providing some support to green industries, focusing mainly on the expansion of renewable energy capacities and low-emissions transport.

Report’s Highlights

  • Coal consumption is projected to rise by almost 5% in 2021, with this growth driven by China (accounting for 61% of the growth), the USA (18%) and India (17%)
  • The U.S. (4.9 tCO2/capita) and Australia (4.1 tCO2/capita) have the highest building emissions per capita in the G20 (average is 1.4 tCO2/capita), reflecting the high share of fossil fuels, especially natural gas and oil, used for heat generation
  • Between 1999 and 2018 there have been nearly 500,000 fatalities and close to $3.5 trillion of economic costs due to climate impacts worldwide, with China, India, Japan, Germany, and the US being hit particularly hard in 2018
  • Across the G20, the current average market share of electric vehicles (EVs) in new car sales remains low at 3.2% (excluding the EU), with Germany, France, and the UK having the highest shares of EVs

The report said: There are expectations that both India and China will submit new national plans before the meeting in Glasgow, which could give a significant boost to attempts to keep the 1.5C target in view.

The G20 group will meet in Rome in the days leading up to COP26 and the UK minister who will lead the talks has in recent days urged the leaders of these countries to now step up.

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