Global emissions of carbon dioxide stayed constant for the third year in a row, despite a growth in the economy. According to the International Energy Agency, who released the figures, this signals a continuing decoupling of emissions and economic activity, something that is seen as important for tackling climate change.
The stalling in carbon emissions is thought to be down to a growing use of renewables to generate power, as well as the switch that is being seen globally from coal to natural gas, improvements in energy efficiency, and structural changes in the global economy. The IEA stated that it is still too early to tell whether this means we have reached peak emissions, though it is still a promising shift.
Last year, the global emissions of carbon dioxide from the energy sector sat at 32.1 billion tonnes (35.4 billion tons), the same it has been for the past three years, while the global economy grew by 3.1 percent. This is obviously a good thing, but if we are to tackle global warming, the IEA warns, simply stopping the growth of emissions is not enough to limit climate change to 2°C (3.6°F) above pre-industrial levels.
“These three years of flat emissions in a growing global economy signal an emerging trend and that is certainly a cause for optimism, even if it is too soon to say that global emissions have definitely peaked,” explained Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director. “They are also a sign that market dynamics and technological improvements matter. This is especially true in the United States, where abundant shale gas supplies have become a cheap power source.”
They note that in the US, the economy grew last year by 1.6 percent, while its carbon emissions dropped by 3 percent. This has been attributed to a surge in the exploitation of shale gas, as well as an increase in renewables across the country at the same time that the use of coal has been dropping. This is the lowest carbon emissions have been in the United States since 1992, while the economy has grown by an impressive 80 percent over this same period.
A similar picture has been emerging in China, which saw their emissions drop by 1 percent, while their economy continued to grow by 6.7 percent. Two-thirds of China’s electricity demand growth was supplied by renewables last year, as the country continues to move away from coal. “In China, as well as in India, the growth in natural gas is significant, reflecting the impact of air-quality measures to fight pollution as well as energy diversification,” said Dr Birol.
With more renewables now being added to the grid than fossil fuels, there is definitely a trend in the right direction. It now needs to be maintained if we are ever going to deal with climate change.