Energy CO2 rose less than feared in 2022 says IEA

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Risk of runaway emissions growth from shift to coal amid global energy crisis, mitigated by renewables, EVs, heat pumps, efficiency and other factors, reports International Energy Agency.

Global energy-related CO2 emissions grew in 2022 by 0.9%, or 321 million tonnes, reaching a new high of more than 36.8 billion tonnes, according to a new report, CO2 Emissions in 2022, issued by the IEA as part of a new series.

The rise in emissions was significantly slower than global economic growth of 3.2%, signalling a return to a decade-long trend that was interrupted in 2021 by the rapid and emissions-intensive economic rebound from the Covid crisis.

Extreme weather events including droughts and heatwaves, as well as an unusually large number of nuclear power plants being offline, contributed to the rise in emissions. But an additional 550 million tonnes of emissions were avoided by increased deployment of clean energy technologies. 

IEA executive director Fatih Birol commented “The impacts of the energy crisis didn’t result in the major increase in global emissions that was initially feared – and this is thanks to the outstanding growth of renewables, EVs, heat pumps and energy efficient technologies. Without clean energy, the growth in CO2 emissions would have been nearly three times as high.

“However, we still see emissions growing from fossil fuels, hindering efforts to meet the world’s climate targets. International and national fossil fuel companies are making record revenues and need to take their share of responsibility, in line with their public pledges to meet climate goals. It’s critical that they review their strategies to make sure they’re aligned with meaningful emissions reductions.”

Coal and oil growth

CO2 emissions from coal grew by 1.6% as the global energy crisis continued to spur a wave of gas-to-coal switching in Asia and to a lesser degree in Europe. While the increase in coal emissions was only around one-quarter of 2021’s rise, it still far exceeded the last decade’s average growth rate.

The increase in emissions from coal more than offset the 1.6% decline in emissions from natural gas as supply continued to tighten following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and as European businesses and citizens responded with efforts to cut their gas use.

CO2 emissions from oil grew even more than those from coal, increasing by 2.5% but still remaining below pre-pandemic levels. Around half of the year-on-year increase in oil’s emissions came from aviation as air travel continued to rebound from pandemic lows.

Major economies have mixed picture

China’s emissions were broadly flat in 2022, as strict Covid measures and declining construction activity led to weaker economic growth and reductions in industrial and transport emissions.

The European Union’s emissions fell by 2.5%, thanks to record deployment of renewables helping ensure the use of coal was not as high as some observers had anticipated. A mild start to the European winter and energy savings measures in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine also contributed.

In the United States, emissions grew by 0.8% as buildings increased their energy consumption to cope with extreme temperatures.

Calling for stronger actions to accelerate the clean energy transition and move the world onto a path towards meeting its energy and climate goals, the CO2 Emissions in 2022 report is the first in a new series that will bring together the IEA’s latest analysis in one place, making it freely accessible in support of the first Global Stocktake in the lead-up to COP28 in November.