Global CO2 emissions stood still in 2016, according to a new report from the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency. The top six emitting nations/regions, with the exception of India, saw CO2 output either fall or remain static as electricity generation moved away from coal and the uptake of renewables increased. The five largest emitting countries plus the European Union account for 51% of the global population, 65% of global GDP, and approximately 63% of total global GHG emissions. Trends also show that China’s coal burning peaked in 2014, although its power generation is still dominated by coal. The global shift is significant because combustion from coal emits more carbon than from oil and approximately twice as much as that from natural gas. This is the third consecutive year that CO2 emissions have been reported as static, indicating a global peak may have been reached.
Overall, global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions increased by about 0.5%, reaching 49.3 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent. This was due to the rise in non-CO2 emissions such as methane, nitrous oxide, and fluorinated gases, which account for approximately 28% of GHG emissions. Methane alone constitutes about 19% of global emissions, being a byproduct of fossil fuel production, cattle farming, and rice production. China’s share of global GHG emissions stood at 26% in 2016, compared to the United States’ share of 13%. Climate economist Prof Lord Nicholas Stern said, “These results are a welcome indication that we are nearing the peak in global annual emissions of greenhouse gases”. Rapid action is now required to reduce emissions to meet the Paris Agreement long-term goal of keeping the increase in global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels. In the UK, government statistics show that emissions fell by 6% in 2016 due to a record drop in coal use. In Q2 of 2017, the renewables share of the generation mix stood at a record 28.9% while coal’s share decreased to a record low of 2.1%, which compares to 5.9% one year earlier. Publication of the government’s long-awaited Clean Growth Plan, expected this autumn, will set the path for future UK emissions reductions.