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Global carbon emissions from energy spiked to record highs last year


The crisis in Ukraine is driving up fuel prices, which were already at a record high. Here's NPR's Nathan Rott.

NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: Remember early in the COVID-19 pandemic when the world was shutting down and the global economy was tanking? Jonas Nahm does.

JONAS NAHM: At the beginning of the pandemic, there was a lot of talk about - around the world, really, about building back better.

ROTT: About recovering in a way that would also limit the effects of climate change. Nahm, an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University, wanted to see if the world would follow through. It didn't, really.

NAHM: What we found is that only 6% of the $14 trillion of fiscal stimulus that was announced by G20 economies actually went towards measures that could reduce emissions.

ROTT: And 3% went to measures that could actually increase them. Nahm's research, which was published earlier this month, is different than this week's IEA report. But it helps explain the International Energy Agency's findings, which showed that the world's recovery relied heavily on a black, combustible, climate-altering rock, otherwise known as coal. That reliance led to the highest level of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions in world history. Then came fossil fuel-rich Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

JASON BORDOFF: This has the potential to be the most significant energy crisis since the Arab oil embargo a half-century ago.

ROTT: Jason Bordoff is the director of the Center for Global Energy Policy at Columbia University. And he says soaring global energy costs means that fossil fuel production is likely to increase in the U.S. in the near term.

BORDOFF: Not because of anything government is doing or not doing or could be doing, but just because oil prices are going through the roof. And with prices going up, we are going to be producing a lot more oil and gas in the country by the end of the year.

ROTT: Increased oil and gas development in the U.S. won't have the same impact on global emissions as, say, China's increased use of coal did in 2021. But it will mean more emissions. And with the world's top scientists warning that billions of people are already at risk from climate change, from rising seas and worsening wildfires, more emissions are exactly what the world needs to avoid.

Nathan Rott, NPR News.


NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Nathan Rott is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, where he focuses on environment issues and the American West.