Global carbon dioxide emissions are “defying expectations” and set to rise by just under 1% this year, far less than analysts predicted, due to record deployment of renewable energy and electric vehicles, the International Energy Agency (IEA) reports.
CO2 pollution from fossil fuels will still rise by about 300 million tonnes this year, the Paris-based IEA says in a release this week. But that’s “only a small fraction” of last year’s two-billion-tonne increase, and a lot less than expected in the midst of a global energy crisis brought on by Russia’s war in Ukraine.
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“This year’s increase is driven by power generation and by the aviation sector, as air travel rebounds from pandemic lows,” the IEA says.
The rise in emissions would have been closer to a billion tonnes if not for some of the key technologies at the heart of the energy transition. Renewable energy generation around the world is up by more than 700 terawatt-hours this year, with wind and solar photovoltaics leading the growth. And while coal emissions around the world are on track to grow by about 200 million tonnes, overall carbon pollution in the European Union is set to decline—and the continent is expected to install about 50 gigawatts of new renewable energy capacity next year.
“Even though the energy crisis sparked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has propped up global coal demand in 2022 by making natural gas far more expensive, the relatively small increase in coal emissions has been considerably outweighed by the expansion of renewables,” the IEA says. The war has also resulted in “significantly dampened expectations for economic growth,” particularly in Europe.
In a separate study, the E3G and Ember climate consultancies found that renewable energy growth has saved the EU US$11 billion in gas imports since Vladimir Putin sent his troops across the Ukraine border in February, Bloomberg reports. Solar and wind supplied one-quarter of the continent’s electricity between March and September.
The invasion “has prompted a scramble by many countries to use other energy sources to replace the natural gas supplies that Russia has withheld from the market. The encouraging news is that solar and wind are filling much of the gap, with the uptick in coal appearing to be relatively small and temporary,” said IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol. “This means that CO2 emissions are growing far less quickly this year than some people feared—and that policy actions by governments are driving real structural changes in the energy economy. Those changes are set to accelerate thanks to the major clean energy policy plans that have advanced around the world in recent months.”
Corporate Knights Research Director Ralph Torrie advised against trying to project where emissions will go next. For now, “the long-term trend and the momentum are in the right direction, just not yet accelerating at the pace we need,” he said in an email. And “most of the factors driving the system right now would have been considered extremely unlikely 10 or even five years ago.”
To solidify and accelerate a continuing reduction in emissions, he said governments must “slam the brakes on any more growth in fossil fuels, especially in buildings and long-lived capital,” while the private sector “needs to up its game when it comes to innovative business models. There are great technological solutions that are being held back for want of the financing and logistical innovation needed to deploy at scale.”
If governments “go all-in on investing in a low-carbon future before it is too late,” he added, “it will pay off.”