Global economy grows with fewer CO2 emissions

CO2 emissions were flat for a third year in a row even as the global economy grew, signalling clearly that it is possible to continue to decouple emissions from economic activity, argues the International Energy Agency.

Global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions were flat for a third straight year in 2016. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), global emissions from the energy sector were 32.1 gigatonnes last year, the same as 2015 and 2014. This is particularly noteworthy as the global economy grew 3.1 per cent last year.

The biggest drop came from the United States, where CO2 emissions fell 3 per cent while the economy grew by 1.6 per cent. According to the IEA, the decline was driven by a surge in shale gas supplies and renewable power, displacing coal.

Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director, called these three years of flat emissions “a cause for optimism, even if it is too soon to say that global emissions have definitely peaked”.

The main forces driving this decoupling of emissions and economic growth were the falling costs of renewable energy and concerns about climate change and air pollution.

But the IEA warned that while this trend is good news for improving air pollution, “it is not enough to put the world on a path to keep global temperatures from rising above 2 degrees Celsius.

“In order to take full advantage of the potential of technology improvements and market forces, consistent, transparent and predictable policies are needed worldwide.”

Renewables supplied more than half the global electricity demand growth in 2016, with hydro accounting for half that share. Coal demand fell worldwide, with the sharpest decline in the US, where demand was down 11 per cent. Coal demand fell by 10 per cent in the EU, while gas demand rose by around 8 per cent.

But 2016 was also a year of increased nuclear net capacity with new reactors coming online in China, the US, South Korea, India, Russia and Pakistan.


Image credit: Lance Cheung, flickr/Creative Commons

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