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A flock of geese fly past a smokestack at a coal power plant near Emmitt, Kan., on Jan. 10, 2009.Charlie Riedel/The Associated Press

The International Energy Agency (IEA) on Monday warned that global emissions that have been hollowed out by the COVID-19 pandemic are set to rebound in 2021 unless governments take swift policy action.

Emissions of CO2 declined by 7 per cent in 2020 to levels last seen a decade ago, agency chief Fatih Birol told reporters, but as the economic damage from the crisis wanes “the early data ... confirm our worry that global emissions in 2021 are set to rebound”.

While the data would not be released by the group until April, the IEA said that China - the first major economy to emerge from strict lockowns - is already topping pre-virus emissions.

Birol announced that the IEA’s first comprehensive road map for the entire global energy sector to reach net zero emissions by 2050 would be published in May.

The report is meant to be a primer for countries set to convene for a climate summit in Glasgow in Novemeber.

Despite the gloomy outlook, the Paris-based watchdog believes that recent pledges by industrialised nations and a change in leadership in Washington mean that major powers could turn the tide in the climate crisis.

“This year can be a pivotal year,” Birol said. “There is a significant new political alignment on climate, which opens up a new world of possibilities for all of us. Many of the largest economies ... committed themselves to a net zero target mid-century in the last few months.

“I am certain that the new U.S. administration will join this group of countries.”

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to rejoin the Paris Agreement on climate when he assumes office this month.

The IEA has faced calls to take a bolder stance on climate change from investors concerned the organisation’s reports enable damaging levels of investment in fossil fuels.

“Nothing short of a total transformation of our energy infrastructure is required,” Birol wrote in an editorial published in the Financial Times on Monday.

“It would mean, by 2030, increasing electric cars’ share of annual sales from 3% to over 50%; expanding the production of low-carbon hydrogen from 450,000 tonnes to 40 million tonnes; and boosting investment in clean electricity from $380 billion to $1.6 trillion.”

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