Energy-related CO2 emissions flatlined last year, IEA says

  • Global emissions remained at approximately 33 gigatonnes in 2019 despite the world economy growing by 2.9%. 
  • The expanding role of renewables such as wind and solar helped to keep levels stable, according to the IEA. 

Energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions “flatlined” last year, according to new data from the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Global emissions remained at approximately 33 gigatonnes (Gt) in 2019 despite the world economy growing by 2.9%, the IEA said Tuesday.

The IEA said that the stagnation was down to several factors. These include a drop in emissions from electricity production in advanced economies due to the “expanding role” of renewables like wind and solar.

Additionally, increased nuclear power generation, fuel switching to natural gas from coal and milder weather all played a role, alongside “slower economic growth” in a number of emerging markets.

“We now need to work hard to make sure that 2019 is remembered as a definitive peak in global emissions, not just another pause in growth,” Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director, said in a statement. “We have the energy technologies to do this, and we have to make use of them all,” Birol added.

Breaking some of the figures down, the U.S. saw energy-related CO2 emissions drop by 140 million tons — just under 3% — to 4.8 Gt, nearly 1 Gt lower than their peak in 2000. Coal use for power generation declined by 15% in the U.S.

The European Union saw emissions decline by 160 million tons — equivalent to 5% — while Japan’s emissions dropped by 45 million tons. In the EU, output from coal-fired plants fell by over 25% last year, the IEA said, with gas-fired generation rising by “close to 15% to overtake coal for the first time.”

While the above is a positive, the IEA said that emissions from outside “advanced economies” had increased by “close to” 400 million tons in 2019, with nearly 80% of this rise coming from countries in Asia.

“The news that global energy-related emissions stopped growing in 2019, driven by a continued reduction in coal-powered electricity production in developed countries, is a sign of real progress in the fight to prevent dangerous climate change,” Simon Retallack, a director at the Carbon Trust, said in a statement sent to CNBC via email.

Retallack explained that it was “vital” that the pause was not a temporary one. “To ensure global emissions have peaked for good, developing as well as developed economies will need to embrace cleaner power generation at a faster pace,” he added.

“They will also need to ensure emissions from other sectors, notably transport and agriculture, stop rising and begin to fall.”


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