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Energy sector emissions maintained for third year

Global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions - the largest source of man-made greenhouse gas emissions - stayed flat for the third consecutive year in 2016, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has announced. This was despite an expansion in the global economy.

According to IEA estimates, global energy-related CO2 emissions in 2016 totalled 32.1 billion tonnes, the same as in the previous two years. It says emissions in the USA and China - the two largest energy users and emitters - declined, while emissions were stable in Europe, offsetting increases in most of the rest of the world.

The IEA said CO2 emissions remained stable despite the global economy growing some 3.1% last year. This, it said, "signalled a continuing decoupling of emissions and economic activity".

"Market forces, technology cost reductions, and concerns about climate change and air pollution were the main forces behind this decoupling of emissions and economic growth," it said.

Renewable energy sources supplied more than half of global electricity demand growth last year. Hydro alone, the IEA said, accounted for half of that share.

The IEA noted the overall increase in global nuclear generating capacity in 2016 was the highest since 1993, with new reactors brought into operation in China, India, Pakistan, Russia, South Korea and the USA.

Coal demand fell worldwide in 2016, but the drop was particularly sharp in the USA, where it was down 11% compared with the previous year. For the first time, electricity generation in the USA from natural gas was higher than from coal last year. "With the appropriate policies, and large amounts of shale [gas] reserves, natural gas production in the United States could keep growing strongly in years to come," the IEA said.

China's emissions declined 1% last year, as coal demand dropped while the economy grew by 6.7%. There were several reasons for this trend, the IEA said. "An increasing share of renewables, nuclear and natural gas in the power sector, but also a switch from coal to gas in the industrial and buildings sector that was driven in large part by government policies combatting air pollution."

IEA executive director Fatih Birol said, "These three years of flat emissions in a growing global economy signal an emerging trend and that is certainly a cause for optimism, even if it is too soon to say that global emissions have definitely peaked." He added, "They are also a sign that market dynamics and technological improvements matter. This is especially true in the United States, where abundant shale gas supplies have become a cheap power source."

The IEA warned the steadying in global CO2 emissions is not enough to put the world on track to keep global temperatures from rising above 2°C. "In order to take full advantage of the potential of technology improvements and market forces, consistent, transparent and predictable policies are needed worldwide," it said.

© 2017 World Nuclear Association. First published at