Emissions flat for three years in a row, IEA says

Focus on renewable energy and cleaner-burning natural gas keeping pollution at bay.
By Daniel J. Graeber Follow @dan_graeber Contact the Author   |   March 17, 2017 at 7:59 AM

March 17 (UPI) -- Through the use of more natural gas and renewables, the United States and China, the lead world economies, helped keep global emissions flat, the IEA said.

The International Energy Agency reported Friday that global energy-related emissions of carbon dioxide, a potent greenhouse gas, were flat in 2016 for the third year in a row, even as the global economy grew.

"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," IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said in a statement.

The IEA attributed the flat rate to growing renewable power generation and a steady switch over from coal to natural gas. The largest decline in carbon dioxide emissions came from the United States, where emissions fell 3 percent at the same time the economy grew by 1.6 percent. Emissions last year were the lowest since 1992, driven in part by shale natural gas and renewable energy replacing coal.

In China, the second-largest economy in the world behind the United States, emissions declined by 1 percent at the same time the economy expanded by more than 6 percent, though China's economy is slowing. The IEA said the decline there came from an increase in the use of renewable energy and a government effort to combat air pollution.

The IEA made no mention of a shifting U.S. landscape under President Donald Trump. The White House is targeting the Clean Power Plan, introduced by the previous administration. The policy was described as a fair and flexible plan to build on the "fast-growing trend toward cleaner and lower-polluting American energy."

Trump has advanced policies that favor the oil and gas sector over renewable energy. White House energy policies under Trump were criticized in Chinese state media as a wasted opportunity.

Elsewhere, for the European Union, which has clear and advancing goals for renewable energy, the IEA said emissions held steady, balanced by a 10 percent decline in coal demand and an 8 percent increase for natural gas.

"While the pause in emissions growth is positive news to improve air pollution, it is not enough to put the world on a path 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," the IEA warned.

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