Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are poised to soar in 2021 as energy use mounts alongside global economic momentum, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said in a report Tuesday.

The Paris-based energy watchdog estimated that emissions would spike by 1.5 billion metric tons/year. It would mark the second-biggest increase on record and more than reverse the decline in 2020 hastened by the Covid-19 pandemic. Globally, emissions dropped by almost 2 billion metric tons (mt) last year, the largest absolute decline in history, according to IEA. The record rise in emissions was set in 2010, when major economies bounced back from the global financial crisis.

Specifically, IEA in its Global Energy Review 2021 estimates that CO2 emissions will increase by nearly 5% this year to 33 billion mt. It based the projection on a combination of updated national data from countries around the world as well as new analyses of economic growth trends and energy projects that are set to come online this year.

The agency said that, while coal will remain below its heyday in the United States, it is likely to bounce back globally this year. IEA projected coal demand would advance 4.5% this year, eclipsing its 2019 level and approaching its 2014 peak. The electricity sector is projected to account for about 75% of the expected increase.

A “resurgence of coal use in the power sector” is “a dire warning that the economic recovery from the Covid crisis is currently anything but sustainable for our climate,” said IEA executive director Fatih Birol. “Unless governments around the world move rapidly to start cutting emissions, we are likely to face an even worse situation in 2022.” 

IEA projected that global energy demand would rise by 4.6% in 2021 from a year earlier, with demand increases most pronounced in China and emerging markets in Asia. The agency said demand for both coal and natural gas would likely rise above both 2020 and 2019 levels.

Electricity generation from renewable energy sources – chiefly solar and wind – could rise by 8% in 2021, IEA said, accounting for more than half of the increase in overall electricity supply worldwide. Renewables are projected to provide 30% of global electricity generation this year. That would eclipse a previous high of nearly 27% in 2019.

China is expected to account for almost half of the global increase in electricity generation from renewables, followed by the United States, the European Union and India. 

Notably, demand from countries in Europe and Asia have driven up demand for U.S. exports of U.S. liquefied natural gas to record levels this year.

Birol pointed to President Biden’s virtual climate summit with 40 leaders from around the globe as a potential launching point for new plans for increased use of renewables. The meeting is slated for Thursday and Friday.

The summit “this week is a critical moment to commit to clear and immediate action,” Birol said.

Analysts, however, are dubious.

“We expect limited progress towards global climate ambition,” said analysts at ClearView Energy Partners LLC. “The issue, in our view, is not the guest list. The invitees include prolific greenhouse gas emitters alongside vulnerable island states and drought-threatened emerging economies, precisely the stuff of high drama. Even so, we think recent U.S.-China frictions…could make for a largely underwhelming repartee. Many participants could also opt to keep ambition in reserve for coming passes of the climate hat.”