CO2 emissions flatlined in 2019: IEA report

Ilaria Grasso Macola 11 February 2020 (Last Updated February 11th, 2020 12:26)

After two years of growth, 2019 global energy-related CO2 emissions have remained consistent at 33 gigatonnes (Gt), despite the global economy expanding by 2.9%.

CO2 emissions flatlined in 2019: IEA report
Credit: Pixabay.

After two years of growth, 2019 global energy-related CO2 emissions have remained consistent at 33 gigatonnes (Gt), despite the global economy expanding by 2.9%.

According to a report published today by the International Energy Agency (IEA), the decrease in emissions is due to a combination of factors, including the expanding role of renewable sources, fuel switching from coal to natural gas and increased nuclear power generation.

IEA executive director Fatih Birol said: “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. We have the energy technologies to do this and we have to make use of them all.”

Globally, CO2 emissions declined by 200 million tonnes (Mt), 1.3% less compared with 2018 levels, while wind power rose by 12%. Wind and solar power together comprised 28% of total electricity generation. Natural gas produced more electricity than coal, and wind-powered electricity caught up with coal-fired electricity for the first time ever.

Coal-fired power in advanced economies declined by 15%, with the US decreasing by 140 million tonnes, 2.9% compared with the previous year – the largest emissions decline on a country basis.

EU emissions fell by 5%, to 160 million tonnes as a result of reductions in the energy sector. Germany led the way with emissions falling by 8% to 620 Mt of CO2, as a result of a decline in electricity demand and an 11% increase in renewables. Expansion of offshore wind capacity and additional projects in the North Sea led the UK’s output from coal-fired power plants to fall to 2% of total electricity generation, with renewables providing about 40% of the electricity supply.

“This welcome halt in emissions growth is grounds for optimism that we can tackle the climate challenge this decade,” said Birol.

“It is evidence that clean energy transitions are underway – and it’s also a signal that we have the opportunity to meaningfully move the needle on emissions through more ambitious policies and investments.”

CO2 emissions produced by developing economies rose to 400 Mt, with 80% coming from Asia. In China, emissions grew but were tempered by a slower economic growth, while in India CO2 emission growth was moderate, with coal-fired electricity generation falling for the first time since 1973.

Despite improvements, campaigners say that gas emissions should decrease even further for temperatures to stay beneath the 1.5°C target.

Greenpeace global campaign strategist Gyorgy Dallos told Power Technology: “In any event, the slow-down or flattening is good news, but obviously by far not enough.”

“As the UN said in its Emissions Gap Report, actually global greenhouse gas emissions – not “just” energy-fossil fuel-related CO2 emissions – should decrease by 7.6% annually between 2020 and 2030 to be able to stay at 1.5°C target of the Paris Agreement.”