Global emissions from energy are flat. Now what ?

There are still reasons to cheer in our fight against climate change. According to the respected International Energy Agency’s new report, global greenhouse gases emissions from energy remained flat in 2016 while the global economy grew by 3.1 percent. 

This is the third year in a row that emissions from energy are flat, yet, climate scientists report that our atmosphere is seeing its carbon content grow faster than ever. So there is a catch….

But let us focus on the good news first. To the IEA press release:

Global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions were flat for a third straight year in 2016 even as the global economy grew, according to the International Energy Agency, signaling a continuing decoupling of emissions and economic activity. This was the result of growing renewable power generation, switches from coal to natural gas, improvements in energy efficiency, as well as structural changes in the global economy.

Global emissions from the energy sector stood at 32.1 gigatonnes last year, the same as the previous two years, while the global economy grew 3.1%, according to estimates from the IEA. Carbon dioxide emissions declined in the United States and China, the world’s two-largest energy users and emitters, and were stable in Europe, offsetting increases in most of the rest of the world.

The biggest drop came from the United States, where carbon dioxide emissions fell 3%, or 160 million tonnes, while the economy grew by 1.6%. The decline was driven by a surge in shale gas supplies and more attractive renewable power that displaced coal. Emissions in the United States last year were at their lowest level since 1992, a period during which the economy grew by 80%.

(…)In 2016, renewables supplied more than half the global electricity demand growth, with hydro accounting for half of that share. The overall increase in the world’s nuclear net capacity last year was the highest since 1993, with new reactors coming online in China, the United States, South Korea, India, Russia and Pakistan.

Coal demand fell worldwide but the drop was particularly sharp in the United States, where demand was down 11% in 2016. For the first time, electricity generation from natural gas was higher than from coal last year in the United States.


Of course, if you have read the news lately, there is a huge source of concern on how America will continue decreasing its emissions as the new President is willing to cut the EPA budget by 31 percent, eliminate the Energy Star program (an energy efficiency initiative that has saved consumers $360 billion since its inception in the 1990s), kill the Clean Power Plan and get rid of the latest fuel economy standards and so on…

However, all hope is not lost there. Solar and wind will still grow as their costs keep on decreasing. Large companies and communities (cities and States alike) are still seeing the benefits of pursuing aggressive energy efficiency policies…

And elsewhere, things are getting better. I have blogged extensively about all this in the past few weeks… Granted, we are still very far from really cutting emissions globally, but there is a lot going on in Europe, China, India and so on.

So, why is the amount of carbon in our atmosphere is increasing fast if our emissions from energy are stable ? As both Scientific American and the Wahington Post point out, this can be explained by the fact that carbon dioxide stays for a long time in the atmosphere.

But are there other factors for this ? Deforestation is one. Our ecosystems’ ability to deal with carbon and absorb it (notably our oceans) may also be decreasing…

So what should Mankind do ? Stop burning so much coal and oil, protect ecosystems and plants trees everywhere… Let’s stay hopeful and let’s act.

Image credits: Flickr, Greg Goebel.

3 thoughts on “Global emissions from energy are flat. Now what ?”

  1. as i am apolitical, i wonder what legal system allows an elected official to wipe out safety measures which were studied, set and implemented successfully in the previous administrations?
    Presidents and congress or senate are short lived bodies–the planet upon which we depend is a long lasting prospect–should laws be signed into responsible effect based upon this indelible fact–it’s not a whim or a fancy–the clean water and clean air act is a basis for all manufacturing and energy projects.

  2. Hi Nadine !

    I have no idea how this is even possible. It seems the goal is to make America go 50-100 years back.

    I am not concerned by Earth. She will survive. Life as we know – including us – is more an uncertainty…

  3. Earth will indeed survive much of man’s abuse–however all the drilling and splitting, the aquifer draining will eventually collapse and erode the crust to the point of causing such deep damage that men, innocent or not will be thinned out from large section of this surface.
    I had expectations of understanding and educating the relevant populations; no such luck. Not sufficient–it will take reactions to the developing isolationism to awaken people to nature’s function. and nature will not be pleasant about it; ‘she’ will remind us of what it took millennia to learn, and now to casually discard?
    Keep your eye on the progress science and management have made, and record all hopeful events and deeds to preserve environmental health. readers need your viewpoint more than ever.

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