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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

CO2 emissions flat for third straight year as GDP grows

Energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions stood at 32.1 gigatonnes (GTs) worldwide in 2016, the same as the previous two years, despite the global economy growing by 3.1%, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

"Too soon to say that global emissions have definitely peaked" ©iStock
"Too soon to say that global emissions have definitely peaked" ©iStock

The intergovernmental organisation said that this was the result of growing renewable power generation, switches from coal to natural gas, and improvements in energy efficiency.

CO2 emissions declined most in the US and China – the world’s two largest energy users and emitters – mitigating increases in most of the rest of the world, while in Europe they remained stable.

IEA executive director Dr Fatih Birol, said: “These three years of flat emissions in a growing global economy signal an emerging trend, and this is certainly a cause for optimism, even if it is too soon to say that global emissions have definitely peaked.

“They are also a sign that market dynamics and technological improvements matter. This is especially true in the US, where abundant shale gas supplies have become a cheap power source.”

Energy-related CO2 emissions (GTs) globally from 1980 to 2016 are shown below:

Source: IEA
Source: IEA

Renewables supplied more than half of the global electricity demand growth last year, with hydropower accounting for 50% of this, while coal demand fell worldwide.

This was particularly true in the US, where demand fell by 11%, and electricity generation from natural gas was higher than from coal for the first time, while there was also a significant coal-to-gas switch in the UK.

Emissions fell by 1% in China while its economy expanded by 6.7%, due to nuclear and natural gas usage, a move away from coal in the industrial and buildings sector, and an increasing share of renewables – although the country has potential for significant improvement.

“In China, as well as in India, the growth in natural gas is significant, reflecting the impact of air-quality measures to fight pollution as well as energy diversification,” Birol continued.

“The share of gas in the global energy mix is close to a quarter today but in China it is 6% and in India just 5%, which shows they have a large potential to grow.”

The IEA analysis highlights that the pause in emissions growth is not enough to keep global temperatures from rising above 2°C, and that consistent, transparent and predictable policies are needed worldwide.

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