IEA: Energy related emissions plateau thanks to surge in renewables

The data shows a decoupling of emissions and economic growth.

Energy-related carbon emissions remained stagnant for the second year in succession, showing a decoupling with economic growth which continued to grow by more than 3 percent. Preliminary data of emissions in 2015 released by the International Energy Agency suggests that renewable energy was largely responsible, accounting for almost 90 percent of new electricity generation.

"The new figures confirm last year's surprising but welcome news: we now have seen two straight years of greenhouse gas emissions decoupling from economic growth," said IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol.

Global emissions of carbon dioxide from energy sector stood at 32.1 billion tonnes in 2015, from 32.07 bt in 2013. Wind energy alone produced more than half of new electricity generation.

Four earlier periods - the early 1980s, 1992 and 2009 -- when emissions dipped have been associated with global economic weakness. Not so the recent one when according to IMF the global GDP grew by 3.4% in 2014 and 3.1% in 2015.

An earlier report from IEA in June last year had predicted that while global energy-related emissions would slow, it will not peak by 2030. The link between economic growth and emissions will weaken significantly, but not be broken. With economic growth poised for 88% rise from 2013 to 2030, energy-related carbon emissions would go up by 8%.

The two largest emitters, China and the United States, showed a drop in energy-related CO2 in 2015. In China, the 1.5 % drop was ascribed to continuing drop in coal use and focus on less energy-intensive industries. Coal-powered electricity accounted for less than 70 percent while hydro, wind and other renewable pushed renewable power to 28 percent.

In the United States, emissions declined by 2%, largely due to increasing reliance on natural gas. However, developing economies in Asia and Middle East made up with increasing emissions with Europe also showing a moderate increase.

The IEA's World Energy Outlook report late last year had warned that global energy demand will grow by nearly a third between 2013 and 2040, with net growth coming entirely from developing countries. While China's coal use would drop, both China and India would drive a surge in energy demand. Fuel efficiency measures would be offset by a prolonged period of lower oil prices with 15% of the energy savings lost in a low oil price scenario, the report said.

The current emissions cannot avert a temperature increase of 2.7 °C by 2100, the IEA had cautioned unless a major course correction is applied. Energy accounts for two thirds of global greenhouse gas emissions.