According to new data from the International Energy Agency (IEA), global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions stopped growing in 2019: Global emissions were unchanged at 33 gigatonnes in 2019 vs. 2018, even as the world economy expanded by 2.9%.
The IEA says the flat figure was primarily due to declining emissions from electricity generation in advanced economies, thanks to the expanding role of renewable sources (mainly wind and solar), fuel switching from coal to natural gas, and higher nuclear power generation. Other factors included milder weather in several countries, and slower economic growth in some emerging markets.
“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,” says Dr. Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director. “We have the energy technologies to do this, and we have to make use of them all.”
A significant decrease in emissions in advanced economies in 2019 offset continued growth elsewhere. The U.S. recorded the largest emissions decline on a country basis, with a decrease of 140 million tonnes, or 2.9%. U.S. emissions are now down by almost 1 gigatonne from their peak in 2000.
Emissions in the European Union fell by 160 million tonnes, or 5%, in 2019, driven by reductions in the power sector. Natural gas produced more electricity than coal for the first time ever, while wind power nearly caught up with coal-fired electricity.
Japan’s emissions fell by 45 million tonnes, or around 4% – the fastest pace of decline since 2009 – as output from recently restarted nuclear reactors increased.
Emissions in the rest of the world grew by close to 400 million tonnes in 2019, with almost 80% of the increase coming from countries in Asia where coal-fired power generation continued to rise.
Across advanced economies, emissions from the power sector declined to levels last seen in the late 1980s, when electricity demand was one-third lower than today. Coal-fired power generation in advanced economies declined by nearly 15% as a result of growth in renewables, coal-to-gas switching, a rise in nuclear power and weaker electricity demand.
“This welcome halt in emissions growth is grounds for optimism that we can tackle the climate challenge this decade,” Birol says. “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.”