IEA: Global Emissions Set To Surge To New High

Pandemic recovery and emissions: IEA

New analysis from the International Energy Agency indicates only around 2% of global government COVID recovery spending has been allocated to clean energy measures.

The Agency says the totals from both government and private sectors fall well short of what is required to reach international climate goals, and global carbon dioxide emissions are to climb to record levels in 2023 – then keep rising.

“Since the Covid-19 crisis erupted, many governments may have talked about the importance of building back better for a cleaner future, but many of them are yet to put their money where their mouth is,” stated IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol.

As of the second quarter of this year, more than USD 16 trillion has been mobilised for rebuilding economies, with USD 380 billion in clean energy investment to date.

How Is Australia Doing?

Working in partnership with the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the IEA has created a policy tracker that includes more than 800 national sustainable recovery policies.

The Tracking Sustainable Recoveries Policy Browser indicates 5.51 billion USD has been committed in Australia to clean energy by state and federal governments. The tracker notes the largest spending areas are fuels and technology innovation and low-carbon electricity.

The tracker doesn’t indicate what chunk of the recovery pie clean energy is getting and there seems to be a number of initiatives missing from it.

Globally, current government plans are only set to increase total public and private spending on clean energy to around USD 350 billion a year by 2023 says the IEA. That’s just 35% of what is envisaged in the IEA’s Sustainable Recovery Plan released in June last year.

“Not only is clean energy investment still far from what’s needed to put the world on a path to reaching net-zero emissions by mid-century, it’s not even enough to prevent global emissions from surging to a new record,” said Mr. Birol.

Mr. Birol stated the pathway to net-zero emissions by 2050 is narrow but still achievable – if we act now.

UN: Sustainable Development Goals “Moving Farther Away”

The IEA certainly isn’t alone in its call for building back better by building back greener. 

The United Nations has repeatedly lamented the low proportion of recovery cash going towards a cleaner energy future. In March this year UN Secretary-General António Guterres also called for the cancellation of all coal power projects globally.

In remarks to the opening of the Ministerial Segment of the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development last week, Secretary-General Guterres again highlighted the need to accelerate the transition from coal, oil, and gas to renewable energy.

“If COP26 in Glasgow is to be a turning point, we need all countries to commit to achieve net zero by mid-century, and to present Nationally Determined Contributions aiming at a cut in global emissions by 45 per cent by 2030, compared to 2010 levels,” he stated.

The Secretary General also said there was a need for all financiers to commit to no new international funding for coal by the end of this year.

About Michael Bloch

Michael caught the solar power bug after purchasing components to cobble together a small off-grid PV system in 2008. He's been reporting on Australian and international solar energy news ever since.


  1. Geoff Miell says

    I think even the UN and IEA don’t appear to know what’s really at stake and what’s now REQUIRED.

    On Jul 19, I sent emailed correspondence (that was not acknowledged and not published) to the Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) in response to a SMH editorial, as follows:

    Editor, The Sydney Morning Herald

    National Party leader Barnaby Joyce said on ABC TV on Sunday (July 18) he would not accept the GHG emissions target until he knows “what is involved” (Northern hemisphere’s awful summer demands climate action, SMH July 18).

    Compelling scientific evidence indicates that crossing the +1.5°C global mean warming threshold (relative to Holocene Epoch pre-industrial age) is now inevitable and will likely occur before 2030, irrespective of any measures humanity takes globally to reduce emissions in the interim. Breaching the Paris upper +2°C warming limit is now likely, before 2050, even with actions more ambitious than the current Paris commitments. On our current GHG emissions trajectory, +3°C is likely early-to-midway through the second half of this century, and +4 and possibly +5°C before the end of this century.

    Risks of simultaneous crop failure in multiple ‘breadbasket’ regions of the world increase disproportionately between +1.5 and 2.0°C, so surpassing the +1.5°C threshold will represent an exponentially increasing threat to global food security, and geopolitical stability.

    After warming exceeds +2°C, the melting of the Antarctic ice sheet becomes essentially unstoppable, posing huge challenges for coastal adaptation efforts.

    +3°C of warming is described in the scientific literature as being catastrophic, and +4°C is likely to be incompatible with the maintenance of human civilisation. Three to five degrees is clearly an existential threat to human civilisation, the damages for humanity are essentially beyond calculation, and therefore must be avoided whatever it costs.

    There is no carbon budget remaining for a safe climate for humanity. Three stages are now required for humanity to mitigate the climate emergency:
    1. A deep and rapid decarbonisation of civilisation as soon as possible;
    2. ‘Negative emissions’ or atmospheric carbon drawdown at large-scale to get CO2 levels safely back to well below 350 ppm;
    3. Maintain arctic summer sea ice cover.

    Australia faces potentially insurmountable challenges to its cities, ecosystems, industries and food and health systems if global mean warming approaches the +3°C threshold or more.

    Leaders and policymakers that are still denying human-caused climate change and the role of greenhouse gases are a danger to society and all future generations.

    Geoff Miell

    1. Table 1 in:
    4. Time interval 0:00:36 through to 0:02:24 in the video:


  2. George Kaplan says

    According to the IEA figures Australia looks to be spending roughly a third of a percent of its GDP on ‘clean energy measures’. By contrast China is spending roughly a fifth of a percent. Of this roughly a third appears to be allocated to ultra-high voltage electrical grid development. Not quite sure how this counts since coal plants benefit from this too.

    On paper America is spending roughly 10x that as Australia – roughly 3.5%, however 97% of this funding is derived from legislation that has yet to pass Congress and may not due to conflicting demands between Democrats, Republicans, the Biden administration, and current congressional rules. Should the measure fail then America’s clean energy measures are largely limited to power grid upgrades, nuclear energy, research and development, and increased energy efficiency.

    • Geoff Miell says

      George Kaplan,
      From the US DoE Energy Information Administration (EIA), published last week (on Jul 28), including a graph of annual US electricity generation from all sectors (2050-2020):

      “In 2020, renewable energy sources (including wind, hydroelectric, solar, biomass, and geothermal energy) generated a record 834 billion kilowatthours (kWh) of electricity, or about 21% of all the electricity generated in the United States. Only natural gas (1,617 billion kWh) produced more electricity than renewables in the United States in 2020. Renewables surpassed both nuclear (790 billion kWh) and coal (774 billion kWh) for the first time on record. This outcome in 2020 was due mostly to significantly less coal use in U.S. electricity generation and steadily increased use of wind and solar.”

      It looks like the US is making some progress, but IMO it’s still not enough.

      Published today was a Briefing Paper from Breakthrough National Centre for Climate Restoration, that says shorter-term emission reduction targets are needed to compel action to cut fossil fuel use, including setting a more ambitious target to reach zero emissions as early as 2030.

      Governments should be looking to set ‘a big minus’ target for global emissions. Does that look familiar?

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