Global carbon emissions from energy have remained unchanged for the third consecutive year, despite economic growth, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). The economy grew by 3.1% in 2016, but energy-related emissions remained at 32.1bn tonnes. This continued decoupling of economic growth and carbon output has been attributed to a combination of a switch from coal to gas on a global scale, an increase in renewable generation, and energy efficiency improvements. In 2016, renewables supplied more than half the global electricity demand growth, with hydro accounting for half of that share. In the US, the effect of a change in energy sources was particularly apparent as emissions fell by 3%, while the economy grew by 1.6%. The continued output of shale gas would keep the US on a low-carbon trajectory, although its climate change strategy is changing, with indications that the Clean Power Plan is likely to be unravelled. Cuts to the country’s environmental budget have already been proposed.
As the US takes a step back from its role on climate change, countries are looking to China to take the lead. President Xi defended the Paris Climate Agreement at the recent World Economic Forum and called for greater international cooperation. China’s emissions declined by 1% in 2016, despite economic growth of 6.7%. Drivers included a switch from coal to gas, as well as five new nuclear plants connecting to the grid. China is the world’s largest investor in sustainable technologies, which it sees as a global opportunity for China and its new route to growth. The UK has also shifted away from coal generation, with taxation in the form of the Carbon Price Support being the main mechanism that increased costs for coal generators in 2016. The latest statistics from BEIS (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) show that in Q3 of 2016, the share of generation met by low-carbon electricity stood at a record high of 50% as generation from both renewables and nuclear plants increased, while coal’s share of the mix stood at just 3.6%. Environmental commentators received the report on emissions optimistically but warn that countries still need to go much further. The IEA has called for a deep energy transformation by 2050 to meet the targets required to limit climate change.