Flat carbon output in 2019 raises hope that emissions have peaked

The head of the International Energy Agency is "hopeful" that global carbon dioxide emissions have peaked after global output flatlined in 2019.

Carbon emissions from energy fell in advanced economies including the EU and US, where the use of coal — the most polluting fossil fuel — declined by between 15 and 25 per cent. Total emissions from advanced economies' power sectors fell to levels "last seen in the late 1980s", the IEA said.

Fatih Birol, chief of the global energy agency, said strong growth in wind and solar power, large scale transitions from coal to natural gas and higher use of nuclear power all contributed to the fall in CO2 emissions, even as developing economies in Asia continued to burn more coal.

Global CO2 emissions from energy use — which make up the largest portion of green house gases by far — remained unchanged at 33 gigatonnes in 2019 on the year before, data from the IEA data show, even as the world economy expanded by almost 3 per cent.

The new IEA numbers are a welcome surprise. Energy-related CO2 output rose in both 2017 and 2018 and earlier studies had suggested this trend was set to continue, casting doubt on efforts to drastically cut emissions to mitigate climate change. Mr Birol acknowledged that emissions would need to fall more sharply still to meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement, which aims to keep global temperature increases to less than 2 degrees on average.

But he said the first step was to stop them from rising. "We have the energy technologies to do this, and we have to make use of them all," Mr Birol said. "2019 is a year that gives me hope that the 2020s will be a decade of relief." Mr Birol said the new numbers were evidence that the world's governments are capable of doing more. "We are making a big push in the power sector . . . but governments need to increase the focus on energy in transport and energy in industry."