Energy-related greenhouse gas emissions increased 1.4% in 2017 after three years of stability, showing that countries must work harder to meet their commitments under the Paris agreement, the International Energy Agency warned in a release Wednesday.
“The growth in energy-related carbon dioxide emissions in 2017 is a strong warning for global efforts to combat climate change, and demonstrates that current efforts are insufficient to meet the objectives of the Paris Agreement,” the agency stated.
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“The failure of emissions to rise between 2014 and 2016 had suggested to analysts that something may have finally changed in the global energy economy—a possible ‘decoupling’ of emissions growth from steady economic growth, thanks to the proliferation of renewables and increasing energy efficiency,” the Washington Post reports. “But now, that hopeful assumption is being called into question,” and “the IEA’s findings will undoubtedly feed into an increasingly urgent international climate dialogue about how to strengthen countries’ promises under the Paris climate agreement.”
The Post notes that discussion will focus in large part on this year’s United Nations climate conference in Katowice, where the Polish government is already signaling a desire to put the “common sense” of incremental action over the faster climate response that was to be the focus for COP 24.
The timing of the IEA report put the fossil-dominated agency in the odd position of sounding less optimistic than three environmental groups issuing their latest annual report on the fall of the coal industry. “With declining deployment and high levels of retirement, coal power capacity is now caught in a squeeze: if current trends continue, by 2022 yearly retirements will exceed new capacity and the global coal fleet will begin to shrink,” stated the report, produced by CoalSwarm, the U.S. Sierra Club, and Greenpeace. While total installed coal capacity grew 2% last year, the report pointed to a declining construction rate that suggests leaner days ahead for the industry.
“The group presented some stark numbers illustrating a declining pipeline for new coal plants, including the fact that in the past two years, coal plant construction starts have declined by 73%,” including 29% in 2017. “Newly completed plants also declined 28% in 2017.” But the report echoed the IEA’s finding that deeper cuts will be needed to meet the Paris carbon reduction targets.
World Coal Association CEO Benjamin Sporton disputed the conclusion that his industry is entering its decline. I’ve just returned from India and China, where coal will continue to act as the base load for the foreseeable future,” he told the Post in an emailed statement. “In the last five years as China became the largest solar and wind market in the world—it also added 229 GW of coal power. Thus, increasing coal generation by a third. Renewables complement rather than displace coal—a trend that we continue to see across Asia.”