IEA: In historic first, CO2 emissions flatlined even as economy grew – thanks to renewables

A halt in the rise of global carbon dioxide emissions, despite continued economic growth, is being hailed as a first by the International Energy Agency, and largely credited to the growth of solar and wind power, alongside a decline in coal-fired generation.

The IEA said on Monday that global CO2 emissions stood at 32.3 billion tonnes in 2014, unchanged from the preceding year, despite a 3 per cent increase in global economic growth.

It says this is the first time in 40 years in which there was a halt or reduction in emissions of greenhouse gases that was not tied to an economic downturn such as the global financial crisis.

Specifically, the IEA attributes the halt in emissions growth to changing patterns of energy consumption in China and OECD countries, and the growing use of renewables, particularly solar and wind power – which are now beginning to have a real impact on energy emissions.

In China, it notes, “2014 saw greater generation of electricity from renewable sources, such as hydropower, solar and wind, and less burning of coal.” China is now the world’s biggest investor in renewable energy generation.

The IEA also said recent efforts to promote more sustainable growth – including greater energy efficiency and more renewable energy – in OECD countries are producing the desired effect of decoupling economic growth from greenhouse gas emissions.

“This is both a very welcome surprise and a significant one,” said Fatih Birol, the IEA’s chief economist who is soon to take over as executive director of the organisation.

Birol said that the decoupling of greenhouse gas emissions from economic growth would give much-needed momentum to negotiators preparing to forge a global climate deal in Paris in December.

“This gives me even more hope that humankind will be able to work together to combat climate change, the most important threat facing us today,” he said.

© 2015 Solar Choice Pty Ltd

Giles Parkinson