Global energy emissions ‘flatlined’ in 2019, new data

Published by Kayle Crosson on

February 11th, 2020

Global energy-related emissions flatlined in 2019, new data released by the International Energy Agency (IEA) indicates.

The Agency found that power sector emissions have declined to levels last seen in the 1980s, although 33 gigatonnes of emission were sent into the atmosphere over the course of last year. 

The IEA study cites the reduced use of coal as one of the main drivers of the flatline, with fossil fuel use  in general down nearly 15 per cent as countries switch to renewables, as well as nuclear power.

The trend is also due in part to milder weather in several countries last year in tandem with slower than expected economic growth in some emerging markets. 

The United States saw the largest emissions decline in the study of almost one gigatonne, while the EU saw a five per cent emissions reduction of almost 160 million tonnes. 

Natural gas exceeded coal in electricity production for the first time in 2019, and wind-powered electricity has now almost caught up with coal-fired electricity. 

Overall, however, emissions in other parts of the world grew by close to 400 million tonnes in the same time period, with almost 80 per cent of the increase coming from Asia where coal-fired power generation continues to expand. 

IEA Executive Director Dr Fatih Birol said the findings are “grounds for optimism” but that countries will need to work hard to make sure that 2019 marks a “definitive peak in global emissions, not just another pause in growth”.

While the report focused on the power sector and presented a potentially optimistic case for the industry going forward, power generation is only one piece of the puzzle in emission reductions for governments.  

Agriculture and transport for the most part continue to maintain their high-emitting status and climate feedback loops also allow for additional emissions. 

Wildfires, such as the ones that swept California and Australia, also emit their own carbon dioxide through deforestation and particulate matter pollution. 

Higher temperatures stretch out fire seasons in dry parts of the world, which can lead to more severe and longer wildfires that can themselves lead to higher temperatures in the future. 

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Kayle Crosson

Kayle is a multimedia journalist focused on climate and environmental issues and contributes to The Irish Times and The Green News.