By - Jim Vess

Global carbon emissions flat in 2019 as the U.S. leads the way in CO2 cuts

Energize Weekly, February 19, 2020

Global carbon emissions slowed in 2019 after two years of growth as increases in developing nations were offset by a sharp drop in power sector emissions in developed countries led by the U.S., according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

The worldwide emissions of carbon dioxide in 2019 were 33 gigatons, a 1.3 percent drop from 2018 levels, with the retirement of coal-fired power plants and the addition of renewable electricity generation playing large roles in the balance.

“Emissions trends for 2019 suggest clean energy transitions are underway, led by the power sector,” the IEA said.

The U.S. posted the sharpest drop in emissions on a country basis with a 2.9 percent year-on-year decline of 140 million tons (Mt). The emissions cut was in large part the result of a 15 percent reduction in the use of coal-fired power plants.

U.S emissions are now down 1 gigaton from their 2000 peak – the largest absolute decline of any country during that period.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) forecasts that absent any new laws or regulations, U.S. emissions will continue to decrease through the early 2030s and then increase slightly through 2050 as the impact of coal plant retirements and auto mileage efficiency standards wane.

In addition to the transition to clean electricity generation, milder weather in 2019 and a weaker global economy also helped to reduce global emissions.

Advanced economies – primarily the U.S., Japan and the European Union – posted a 3.2 percent drop in total coal-related emissions, equal to 370 Mt, with about 85 percent of that coming from the power sector.

Meanwhile, outside of those developed countries, emissions were up nearly 400 Mt in 2019, with about 80 percent of that coming from Asia where coal demand continues to rise and accounted for 50 percent of energy use.

Emissions were up in China, although dampened by slower economic growth. In India, emissions from the power sector declined slightly while there was continued emission growth in other sectors, such as transportation, where the demand for fossil fuels grew.

In the rest of Southeast Asia, there was an increase in emissions “lifted by a robust coal demand,” the IEA said.

Still, overall global power sector emissions were down by about 170 Mt, or 1.2 percent, and are now at levels not seen since the late 1980s, when electricity demand was a third of what it is now, the agency said.

While the U.S. led the way on CO2 emissions reductions, the European Union was not far behind, according to an annual analysis by Agora Energiewende and Sandbag, two European-based energy think tanks.

The 120-Mt fall in sector CO2 emissions for the European Union (EU), including the United Kingdom, in 2019 was a record. Overall, emissions were down 160 Mt in 2019, a 5 percent decline from the previous year.

Electricity generation from hard coal was down 32 percent, and generation from lignite was down 16 percent. “This development was driven by CO2 price increases [in the EUs carbon-trading system] and deployment of renewables,” Agora and Sandbag said.

Solar and wind replaced about half the retired coal-fired generation, and natural gas replaced the remainder. Renewable energy supplied about 35 percent of the EU’s electricity in 2019.

“Greece and Hungary both made commitments in 2019 to phase out coal, bringing the total of member states phasing out coal to 15. Only Poland, Romania, Bulgaria and Slovenia are yet to start,” the analysis said.

Germany was the EU leader with an 8 percent drop in carbon emissions – to levels not matched since the 1950s. Output from coal-fired plants was down 25 percent, and wind generation increased 11 percent. In 2019, renewable sources provided a record 40 percent of the country’s electricity.

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