U.S. Emissions Declined in 2016, Global Emissions Flat: IEA Credits Natural Gas

U.S. carbon dioxide emissions declined by 3% last year, the International Energy Agency (IEA) reports, falling to their lowest level since 1992. Global emissions remained flat for the third consecutive year.

IEA executive director Fatih Birol credited the encouraging news to market dynamics and technological advances leading power providers to switch from coal power to natural gas.

Image courtesy of the International Energy Agency.

Image courtesy of the International Energy Agency.

“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,” said Birol in an IEA press release. “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 3% drop in U.S. emissions occurred despite 1.6% economic growth last year. This contrasts with declining emissions late last decade that were tied to economic recession.

China also contributed to declining global emissions. Chinese emissions declined by 1% last year despite an economy that grew by 6.7%. Chinese emissions grew approximately 10% per year last decade, but have slowed dramatically this decade.

Relatively flat Chinese emissions would allow global emissions to settle at their current levels and perhaps even begin a long-term decline. Global emissions have risen by 33% this century, with Chinese emissions accounting for most of the global growth. Emissions in Western Europe and the United States have declined this century.

China was able to achieve emissions reductions despite a rapidly growing economy because hydro power and nuclear power accounted for most of its growth in electricity consumption. Although American leftists typically oppose these power sources, China’s government recognizes hydro and nuclear power reduce air pollution and carbon dioxide emissions while keeping electricity prices affordable.

Clean-burning natural gas is also gaining market share in Asia, though not as quickly as in the United States. There remain plenty of opportunities for natural gas to replace coal power in Asia if U.S. policymakers will remove obstacles to natural gas exports.

“In China, as well as in India, the growth in natural gas is significant, reflecting the impact of air-quality measures to fight pollution as well as energy diversification,” said Birol. “The share of gas in the global energy mix is close to a quarter today but in China it is 6% and in India just 5%, which shows they have a large potential to grow.”

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