Renewable electricity will be the only source resilient to the biggest global energy shock in 70 years triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, according to the world’s energy watchdog.
The International Energy Agency said the outbreak of Covid-19 would wipe out demand for fossil fuels by prompting a collapse in energy demand seven times greater than the slump caused by the global financial crisis.
In a report, the IEA said the most severe plunge in energy demand since the second world war would trigger multi-decade lows for the world’s consumption of oil, gas and coal while renewable energy continued to grow.
The steady rise of renewable energy combined with the collapse in demand for fossil fuels means clean electricity will play its largest ever role in the global energy system this year, and help erase a decade’s growth of global carbon emissions.
Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director, said: “The plunge in demand for nearly all major fuels is staggering, especially for coal, oil and gas. Only renewables are holding up during the previously unheard of slump in electricity use.”
Renewable energy is expected to grow by 5% this year, to make up almost 30% of the world’s shrinking demand for electricity. The growth of renewables despite a global crisis could spur fossil fuel companies towards their goals to generate more clean energy, according to Birol, but governments should also include clean energy at the heart of economic stimulus packages to ensure a green recovery.
“It is still too early to determine the longer-term impacts,” said Birol. “But the energy industry that emerges from this crisis will be significantly different from the one that came before.”
The impact of the coronavirus has triggered a crisis for fossil fuel commodities, including the collapse of oil market prices, which turned negative for the first time in the US earlier this month.
Global efforts to curb the spread of Covid-19 have led to severe restrictions on travel and the global economy that will cause the biggest drop in global oil demand in 25 years.
Demand for gas is expected to fall by 5%, after a decade of uninterrupted growth. It is the steepest drop since gas became widely used as an energy source in the second half of the previous century.
Coal demand is forecast to fall by 8% compared with 2019, its largest decline since the end of the second world war.
Which countries contribute most to the climate crisis?
China produces the most heat-trapping pollution, followed by the US. But historically, the US has contributed more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere than any other nation. The US also has high emissions per capita, compared to other developed countries. And Americans buy products made in China, therefore supporting China’s carbon footprint.
The Paris-based energy authority used data from every country and across each energy sector to analyse the impact of the pandemic on the global system.
It found that global energy demand was likely to plummet by 6% this year, the equivalent of losing the entire energy demand of India – the world’s third largest energy consumer – or the combined energy demand of France, Germany, Italy and the UK.
The impact of the pandemic on energy use will be more keenly felt in advanced economies where demand is expected to fall by 11% across the EU and 9% across the US.
The collapse of fossil fuel demand could lead global emissions to fall by 8% compared with 2019, a drop six times larger than the record fall after the financial crisis in 2009 to lows not seen in the past decade.
The 3bn tonne drop in carbon dioxide emissions surpasses data commissioned by the Guardian this month that predicted a fall or 2.5 bn tonnes this year, greater than the drop triggered by every financial crash since the second world war combined.
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