When Will Global CO2 Emissions Peak?
Yu Yang
/SOURCE : Yicai
When Will Global CO2 Emissions Peak?

(Yicai Global) April 6 -- Energy-related carbon dioxide emissions totaled 32.1 billion tons worldwide last year, according to statistics from the International Energy Agency. Total emissions have flattened over the past three years after continuous growth in the decades prior (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1 -- Global Energy-Related CO2 Emissions, 1980 to 2016 (Billion Tons)

Source: IEA 

Carbon dioxide emissions are usually closely connected with global economic trends. The onset of the global economic crisis in 2009 was accompanied by a decline in CO2 emissions worldwide. But the connection has weakened over the past few years, with the pair showing barely any relationship (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2 -- Global Economic Growth and CO2 Emission Increases

Source: IEA 

The development of clean energy, declining coal consumption, improved energy efficiency and economic restructuring are the driving forces behind the decoupling, the IEA said. Last year, more than half of electricity demand growth worldwide was supplied by renewable energy.China, the US, India, and Russia are pushing forward the construction and operation of nuclear power facilities. Increased use of natural gas also led to a decline in coal consumption.

The Chinese government led a campaign to substitute coal with clean energy through structural reforms and environmental control measures. In contrast, economic activities and market forces played a more substantial role in the clean energy development in the US.

United States

Last year saw the US make its biggest drop in CO2 emissions, at 3 percent, data shows. The American economy has recovered over the last couple of years, but carbon dioxide emissions fell, thanks to natural gas and renewable energy replacing coal.

In 2016, natural gas-fired power generation in the US was higher than power from coal for the first time, according to data from the US Energy Information Administration. Green electricity has become more competitive and is gaining popularity with corporations after a decline in the costs of wind and solar power.

As the second largest emitter of greenhouse gases and the largest historic emitter, the US's decarbonizationisan encouraging sign. However, the world's largest economy is still facing a number of uncertainties. The US Environmental Protection Agency's administrator recently denied that anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide were the main cause of global warming, and the federal government proposed to cut 31 percent of the agency's budget.

Two days ago, US President Donald Trump signed an executive order to promote energy independence and economic growth, requiring all administrative departments to review existing legislations and regulations that burden the development or use of domestically produced energy sources (particularly petroleum, natural gas, coal and nuclear power), and rescind restrictions imposed by the Obama administration on federal land leasing for coal purposes.

The EPA was ordered to review Obama's Clean Power Plan and suspend, amend or even abolish several of its legislations. Removing these regulations will take some time, plus a growing number of state governments and American companies have already acted to avert climate change. The overall situation in the US, however, does not look promising.


CO2 emissions in China also fell last year, declining 1 percent, and have been reducing over the past two years. Nuclear power, natural gas, and renewable energy continued to rise in China's energy mix. China's coal consumption has consistently fallen since 2014.

Earlier this year, the NationalEnergy Administration ordered the construction of coal power plants to be suspended or canceled in more than 10 provinces, and the government's coal-to-gas shift also lowered the CO2 emissions. Natural gas will be developed as one of the main energy sources in the country.

Natural gas only makes up around 6 percent of total energy consumption in China, the IEA said, which is significantly lower than the global average of nearly 25 percent, showing the natural gas industry in China has great potential for development.

There is no denying that coal still represents a dominant part of China's energy mix, despite the continued declines in emissions and use of coal. Wind, solar and gas-fired power are all more expensive than coal power, so economic and energy restructuring will need to be deepened to meet the government's target of reaching a peak in carbon dioxide emissions by 2030.

European Union

Emissions in European countries remained roughly unchanged in 2016 compared to that in 2015. As in the US and China, the increased use of natural gas and renewable energy has been squeezing the coal consumption in Europe. However, Britain's withdrawal from the union will have implications for European and British energy and climate policies. Brexit will undermine the UK's influence in global climate governance, and upset the balance of energy policies among other EU members, as well as hindering their collective efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

India and Southeast Asia

Reductions in emissions across the US and China have been offset by increases in other countries. Coal consumption has been on the rise in India and some Southeast Asian countries, such as Malaysia and Indonesia, where coal is still one of the cheapest energy sources. These low-income economies still cannot afford to ignore coal as a cheap energy source, the IEA said in its World Energy Outlook report.

FatihBirol, the IEA's executive director, believes the flattening global CO2 emission growth seen over the last three years is  'a cause for optimism', but it is still too early to say that emissions have peaked. Existing efforts are far from enough to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius. Participants at the G20 finance ministers' meeting in Germany failed to reach a consensus on fiscal incentives to tackle climate change. Global energy restructuring and climate governance still face serious challenges.

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Keywords: ENERGY , Nuclear Power , Greenhouse Gases , Emission , Cliamte Change , IEA