A surge in renewable generation last year played a “critical role” in keeping global energy-related CO2 emissions flat for the second year in a row, according to new data from the International Energy Agency (IEA).
The Paris-based agency says its preliminary data for 2015 shows that global emissions of CO2 stood at 32.1bn tonnes, having remained essentially flat since 2013. Emissions stood at 32.3bn tonnes in 2014.
“The new figures confirm last year’s surprising but welcome news: we have now seen two straight years of greenhouse gas emissions decoupling from economic growth,” says IEA executive director Fatih Birol.
“Coming just a few months after the landmark COP21 agreement in Paris, this is yet another boost to the global fight against climate change.”
The IEA data suggests that electricity generated by renewables played a critical role in keeping emissions flat, having accounted for around 90% of all new power capacity in 2015.
Wind power alone produced more than half of all new electricity generation last year.
The agency says in parallel, the global economy continued to grow by more than 3%, offering further evidence that the link between economic growth and emissions growth is weakening.
The world’s two largest emitters, China and the US, both recorded a decline in their energy-related CO2 emissions in 2015. China saw its emissions decline by 1.5% as its coal use fell for the second year in a row
Last year coal generated less than 70% of Chinese electricity, ten percentage points less than four years ago [in 2011]. Over the same period low-carbon energy sources jumped from 19% to 28%, with wind and hydro accounting for most of the increase.
US emissions declined by 2%, as a large switch from coal to gas use in electricity generation took place.
However, the decline observed in the two major emitters was offset by increasing emissions in most other Asian developing economies and the Middle East, and also a moderate increase in Europe.
In the more than 40 years in which the IEA has been collecting data on CO2 emissions, there have only been four periods in which emissions stood still or fell compared to the previous year.
Three of these periods – the early 1980s, 1992 and 2009 – were associated with global economic weakness. But the recent stall in emissions comes amid economic expansion. According to the International Monetary Fund global gross domestic product grew by 3.4% in 2014 and 3.1% in 2015.
Environmental group Greenpeace welcomed the IEA data as heading in the right direction, but said a rapid reduction in global emissions is still needed. “China’s efforts to tackle climate change and local air pollution are paying global dividends,” says Li Shuo, Greenpeace East Asia senior climate adviser.
“China’s emissions may have peaked and are now falling for the second year in a row. This puts the country on track to surpass its Paris climate commitments, which is great news.”
However, Greenpeace warns that despite the Paris agreement, climate ambitions in some countries continue to lag.
It highlights that Europe is now the only region in the world to have seen investments in renewables – particularly wind and solar – decline over the last five years.
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