Climate hopes raised as global energy emissions stall for second year

Early figures show emissions from energy sector stayed flat in 2015 on renewables surge, says influential forecaster

Renewables, especially wind, played a 'critical role' in the emissions stall says the Paris-based IEA (credit: Pixabay)

Renewables, especially wind, played a ‘critical role’ in the emissions stall says the Paris-based IEA (credit: Pixabay)

By Alex Pashley 

Global greenhouse gas emissions resisted a rise for a second straight year in a sign climate policies are working, the leading energy forecaster projected on Wednesday.

Renewable power played a “critical role” in holding CO2 emissions to around 32 billion tonnes, the International Energy Agency said in a statement.

The Paris-based think tank also cited falling coal use in top carbon polluters China and the United States in its preliminary data.

The figures mark the first period in 40 years that a halt or reduction was not tied to an economic downturn. The data does not account for pollution from transport or changes in land use.

Report: World’s carbon emission growth levelled off in 2014 

“The new figures confirm last year’s surprising but welcome news: we now have seen two straight years of greenhouse gas emissions decoupling from economic growth,” IEA head, 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.”

Carbon dioxide is the most durable greenhouse gas, with a lifetime of up to 200 years. Since 1990, CO2 levels have soared over 60%, driven in part by China’s rapid growth.

The IEA said surging deployment of renewable power, especially wind drove the plateau, with renewables accounting for 90% of new electricity generation in 2015.

Emissions in China, the world’s largest carbon polluter, fell 1.5% on receding coal consumption as it restructured its economy away from energy-intensive industries and ramped up clean energy.

In the US, the next largest polluter, a switch from coal to natural gas drove a 2% fall in emissions.

Yet rising pollution in other Asian developing economies, the Middle East and Europe, offset those reductions.

Global warming: February temperature rise ‘unprecedented’ 

“It’s very encouraging to see energy-related CO2 emissions growth stall, but few steps have been taken to accelerate clean energy deployment so emissions start to decline,” said Greenpeace energy strategist, Emily Rochon.

“As we are witnessing alarming temperature increases, this is no time to sit back and enjoy the ride. World leaders in Paris agreed to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees C, which requires unprecedented efforts today, not tomorrow, to scale up renewable energy and reduce energy consumption globally.”

Last month was the hottest February on record, with global surface temperatures rising perilously close to that 1.5C threshold, while annual CO2 levels rose the fastest in 56 years.

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