Global energy emissions plateau

Power County Wind Farm, Idaho, US
Power County Wind Farm, Idaho, US

  • Figures show emissions plateauing despite economic expansion
  • IEA attributes decoupling to use of renewable energy
  • Only four other times on record where emissions have either stood still or fallen compared to previous year


Falling coal use in China and the US, and a worldwide shift towards renewable energy, have kept greenhouse gas emissions level for a second year running.

Preliminary data released by the International Energy Agency (IEA) has found global emissions of carbon dioxide stood at 32.1 billion tonnes last year, in line with 2014, and have remained essentially flat since 2013.

On International Monetary Fund (IMF) figures, the global economy grew at 3.4 per cent in 2014 and 3.1 per cent in 2015.

The IEA — a Paris-based advisor to the OECD on energy issues — noted preliminary data suggested new sources of renewable energy were the driving force in greenhouse gas emissions decoupling from economic growth.

The IEA said around 90 per cent of new electricity generation last year came from renewable sources, with wind providing around half of that.

The two largest emitters, China and the US, both reduced energy-related emmisions in 2015. In China, emissions declined by 1.5 per cent, as coal use dropped for the second year running. In the US, emissions declined by 2 per cent, as a large switch from coal to natural gas use in electricity generation took place. However, these declines were offset by increasing emissions in most other Asian developing economies and the Middle East, said the IEA.

“The new figures confirm last year’s surprising but welcome news [that] we now have seen two straight years of greenhouse gas emissions decoupling from economic growth,” IEA executive director Fatih Birol said.

“Coming just a few months after the landmark COP21 agreement in Paris, this is yet another boost to the global fight against climate change,” Dr Birol said.

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