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10 things to watch for in 2021

25 January 2021 Keiron Greenhalgh

The Chinese zodiac's Year of the Ox is set to begin 12 February. The ox is seen to denote hard work and positivity among other manifestations. In some ways, the globe has become a more positive place for many in the opening weeks of 2021 as vaccination programs roll out to combat the health crisis that blighted 2020.

Observers are also positive about the prospects for renewable generation, electric vehicle and battery storage growth, opportunities opening up in the hydrogen space, and a shot in the arm for multilateral diplomacy.

So while a large percentage of the population would like to take a mulligan* on 2020, here's what's on the minds of IHS Markit's Climate & Sustainability news team as 2021 tees off:

  • As economies, especially that of the world's largest emitter, China, recover as various vaccines for the virus are rolled out, then pollution levels will rise. This is a reversal of last year's trend, when the global COVID-19 pandemic led to a 7% year-on-year decrease in greenhouse gas emissions, the largest on record.
  • The Conference of the Parties 26 will be held in Glasgow, Scotland, in 2021. Whether it is virtual due to the coronavirus pandemic is yet to be determined. Under pressure UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson sees COP 26 as an opportunity to burnish his green credentials and his legacy. Whether delegates will need to offset their flights' emissions to the second city of the empire as it was known in Victorian times is among the questions to be answered.
  • Global electric vehicle sales will continue to rise. IHS Markit predicts global sales of light-duty EVs will rise about 70% in 2021 to 4.25 million, with China and Europe as the largest markets.
  • Solar glass prices will be on the minds of executives up and down the sector's supply chain in 2021 after jumping in 2020, especially US players who pay much higher import prices than their counterparts elsewhere in the developed world. In 2021, IHS Markit expects prices will continue to see support until the second quarter, before slowly decreasing in the latter half of the year due to additional manufacturing capacity coming online.
  • Net-zero commitments will continue to emerge from companies and countries. More than 120 countries have committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2050. Now, the question is will more national oil companies follow Petronas and what about the world's third largest polluter, India?
  • Oil and gas companies' capital expenditure dived as oil prices collapsed last year. Prices have rebounded, but they still represent significant headwinds. Investment in the upstream and downstream oil and natural gas sectors, coal mining, and fossil fuel-fired power generation (coal and gas) in the 2021-2025 period is set to decline 20% compared with 2015-2019 levels, according to IHS Markit.
  • China's carbon trading scheme is set to launch 1 February. Some 2,225 power plants across China with annual emissions of 26,000 mt of CO2-equivalent (10,000 mt of standard coal equivalent energy consumption) in any year between 2013 and 2019 are eligible for emissions allowances for 2019 and 2020 and are required to meet the compliance obligations of the trading scheme.
  • Europe carbon trading started out strong in 2021. Citibank expects EU Allowance prices to range between €35 and €37/mt ($43-$45/mt) in 2021. The bank expects prices to range from the mid-€50s to €60s by 2025. The benchmark ICE EUA front year futures contract, EUA December 2021, touched a then all-time-high of €32.50/mt in December 2020, according to ICE data. So far in January, December futures have traded between €30 and €35.
  • The US role in the global energy transition will ramp up. President Joe Biden has already begun a re-integration into global climate multilateralism; Congress is set to provide backing for and invest in renewable energy; the Biden administration has started to roll back many of the environmental policies of the last four years and impose new carbon dioxide and methane controls. But will President Biden be able to translate his net-zero carbon pledge into a national commitment in time for Glasgow?
  • If the 409-MW Manatee Solar Energy Center in Florida meets its in-service schedule of later this year, it will be the third time in less than 18 months the record for the globe's largest battery storage facility has been broken, each time in the US. That record won't last long though …

*A mulligan is a chance to start again on the golf course. A do-over. Will we be seeking one in 12 months' time? Will the glass or mug be half-full or half-empty in the clubhouse?

Posted 25 January 2021 by Keiron Greenhalgh, Senior Editor


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