Early signs of climate progress as emission levels stall

New data from the International Energy Agency (IEA) reveals that international energy-related emissions stalled for the second year running in 2015. Last year was the first time that emissions have stalled while economic growth has increased.

Global emissions produced from energy sourcing and consumption – the largest source of man-made emissions – stayed flat over the last 48 months at 32.1billion tonnes, with the IEA citing electricity produced from renewables as a ‘critical’ driver in the lack of growth.

“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’s executive director 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.”

IEA data suggested that renewables accounted for around 90% of new electricity generation in 2015, with wind alone producing more than half of this percentage. The world’s two largest emitters, China and the US, both produced a decline in energy emissions, with low-carbon sources jumping from 19% to 28% in China as emissions fell by 1.5% in the country – just 0.5% less than the US decarbonisation movement.

Decoupling effect

While the decline from China and US made a sizable dent in global emissions, it was largely offset by economic development and fossil fuel reliance in emerging economies located in Asia and the Middle East. The growth in economies in these areas – which contributed to a 3% GDP increase – provides and interesting parallel to the world’s stalling emissions.

In the 40 years which IEA has been sourcing information on emissions, this marks the first time that the correlation between emissions and economic growth have been severed.

According to the IEA, the early 1980s, 1992 and 2009 were the only periods where emissions stalled or fell, but all of these were associated with global economic downturn. 2015 marks the first time that emissions have stalled while economic growth has increased.

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March 18, 2016
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