According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), carbon dioxide emissions from energy production have remained steady for three years in a row, even during a period of growth in the global economy. C02 emissions from the energy sector were 32.1 billion tons in 2016, which matched numbers from the prior two years. Importantly, the same period saw 3.1 percent growth in global economy, according to the IEA.
The organization attributed the leveling out to a growing renewable energy sector, boosted by subsides and other policy around the world, as well as to a move from coal to natural gas and increased energy efficiency. They cautioned however, that it is still too soon to say global emissions have peaked.
The most significant drop in emissions was seen in the US, with carbon dioxide emissions falling 3 percent alongside 1.6 percent growth in the economy. The shift followed an increase in shale natural gas supply – gas resources found within shale formations, as well as an increase in renewable power sources that helped to supplant coal. Carbon emissions in the US were at their lowest level since 1992 – despite an 80 percent growth of the economy since that year.
Notably, emissions also fell in China, by 1 percent, and remained stable in Europe. These regions helped to offset increases throughout much of the rest of the world. In China, demand for coal fell while nuclear power, natural gas, and renewable energy accounted for larger shares of energy production. In the EU, demand for gas rose by 8 percent while coal decreased 10 percent. Britain saw a move from coal towards natural gas, thanks to cheaper gas and a carbon price floor that made coal a more costly option, according to the IEA.
According to Dr Fatih Birol, the executive director of the IEA:
“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. 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.”
The IEA also warned that the level emissions were still not enough to help the world meet its agreed upon target to keep temperature increases below 2 degrees Celsius – considered necessary to prevent dangerous climate change.