New report reveals pause in rise of carbon dioxide emissions in 2019
According to the latest report from the International Energy Agency (IEA), in 2019 global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions stayed steady from the previous year. That’s cause for some cautious optimism, as it’s better than continued growth, of course, but this could still be just a pause rather than the start of the long-term downward trend that we need.
To prevent the very worst-case scenarios of climate change from coming to pass, we need to reduce our carbon dioxide emissions as quickly as possible. In 2015, the Paris Agreement put a target cap on warming this century, and outlined the amount of CO2 emission reductions needed to meet that goal.
A rise of 2° C (3.6° F) above pre-industrial levels was set as the safe limit, which would require CO2 emissions be kept to under 42 gigatons in 2030. Sadly, we currently look primed to shoot way past that, sending us towards a rise of as much as 3.4° C (6.12° F) by the end of the century.
And yet, even knowing this full-well, global emissions have continued to rise year over year. That means that not only have we not begun to solve the problem, on the whole we’re still actively making it worse.
However, there is a small glimmer of hope in the latest IEA report. The agency says that in 2019, global emissions stayed on 33 gigatons, the same as in 2018. This is a nice change of pace, after solid growth in the previous two years.
The report explains that the declining emissions were mostly due to “advanced economies” making the switch to renewable energy sources. Wind and solar played bigger roles, more countries switched from coal to natural gas, and there were higher rates of nuclear power generation.
Interestingly, emissions broke even thanks to declines in some regions offsetting growth in others. The US recorded the largest emissions decline of any individual country, dropping by 140 million tonnes. The European Union fell by 160 million tonnes, while Japan cut emissions by 45 million tonnes. These promising declines were offset, however, by the rest of the world, where emissions grew by as much as 400 million tonnes. Almost 80 percent of that, the report says, came from countries in Asia.
Overall, a pause in the rise of emissions is at least on the right track towards being good news, but on its own it’s hardly enough. Single-year pauses have happened in the past, before emissions go right on rising the following year. Still, it’s encouraging to see that our efforts in curbing emissions can have a positive effect.
“This welcome halt in emissions growth is grounds for optimism that we can tackle the climate challenge this decade,” says Dr Fatih Birol, Executive Director of IEA. “It is evidence that clean energy transitions are underway – and it’s also a signal that we have the opportunity to meaningfully move the needle on emissions through more ambitious policies and investments. We now need to work hard to make sure that 2019 is remembered as a definitive peak in global emissions, not just another pause in growth.”
The IEA report is available online, and a follow-up World Energy Outlook Special Report will be published in June.