Global Carbon Emissions Flat While Economic Activity Rises

This story was updated on March 21. See below.

Are you ready for some good news? The International Energy Agency announced on March 16 that, for the second year in a row, the world economy has grown while energy-related carbon emissions remained flat. it attributes the decoupling taking place between carbon emissions and economic expansion to greater energy efficiency and a surge in renewables. That decoupling is “unprecedented” and “huge” according to IEA chief Fatih Birol. The IEA explains that the only three previous times in the last four decades that emissions were flat or dropped (the early 1980s, 1992, and 2009) “were associated with global economic weakness.”

carbon emissions flat says IAE

Much of the credit for keeping emissions from rising goes to the US and China. US emissions fell 2% last year while China’s dropped 1.5% “as coal use dropped for the second year in a row,” the IEA says.  Its “data suggest that electricity generated by renewables played a critical role, having accounted for around 90% percent of new electricity generation in 2015.” 9 out of 10 new power generation facilities that came online last year rely on renewables, says Think Progress. Half of those utilize wind power to make electricity.

China is leading the world in replacing coal fired generating plants with renewables. “In 2015, coal generated less than 70% of Chinese electricity, ten percentage points less than four years ago (in 2011),” the IEA states. “Over the same period low carbon sources jumped from 19% to 28%, with hydro and wind accounting for most of the increase.” China is also driving a major push to replace cars powered by gasoline and diesel with electric cars.

It has been an article of faith among conservatives in America that reducing global carbon emissions is bad for the economy. But as Mark Twain once observed, “What you don’t know won’t hurt you near as much as what you do know that ain’t true.” Sadly, America is in the grip of political leaders who let what they think be dictated by whoever gives them the most money. Our media is also saturated with phony news stories concocted by people who confuse journalism with the entertainment business.

According to a report by the Center For American Progress Action Fund on the legislative session that ended December 31, 2014, 59% of the House Republican caucus and 70% of Senate Republicans refuse to accept the reality of climate change. In total, those climate deniers speak for 62% of all Americans on Capitol Hill. This despite the fact that the majority of Americans, regardless of party affiliation, accept that climate change is real. Clearly, American voters need to do a better job of selecting leaders who represent the majority point of view. The key to that, of course, is actually voting, something an increasing number of Americans choose not to do.

“Decoupling of global carbon emissions from economic growth “is yet another boost to the global fight against climate change,” said IEA’s Birol, “coming just a few months after the landmark COP21 agreement in Paris.” Is it possible that global emissions will continue to plateau or even trend downwards? Only if we elect leaders who support measures to keep fossil fuels in the ground and convert more of our energy needs to renewables.

Vote as if your life depended on it. It does.

UPDATE: I got the following story via Twitter from Greg Robie: Record annual increase of carbon dioxide observed at Mauna Loa for 2015. If you are interested in this subject, you owe it to yourself to read the NOAA report to get the complete picture.

Steve Hanley

Closely following the transition from internal combustion to electricity. Whether it's cars, trucks, ships, or airplanes, sustainability is the key. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.