Global CO2 Emissions Rise Stalled Out in 2015

Global CO2 emissions flat in 2015

The rise in global human emissions of CO2 came to a halt in 2015, dropping 0.1 percent following three consecutive years of slow growth, according to PBL, the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency. Declines in emissions from coal-fired power plants and cement production (down 2 percent combined) were big factors, while tepid economic growth and heightened levels of uncertainty also contributed.

CO2 emissions from coal-fired power plants and cement production dropped 2 percent globally last year from 2014 while primary energy production rose 1.0 percent. That drop was  offset by rising emissions from combustion of natural gas and oil products, PBL and the European Commission’s Joint Research Center (EC-JRC) report in the latest annual Trends in global CO2 emissions.”

The top two national sources of CO2 emissions, China and the U.S., reduced emissions 0.7 and 2.6 percent, respectively. Emissions also dropped across the Russian Federation (-3.4%) and Japan (-2.2%) but rose in India (+5.1%) and the E.U. (+1.3%), the agencies highlight in a news release.

Chinese coal demand decreasing

The 0.7 percent in China’s 2015 CO2 emissions was the first annual decrease since 2000 following three years of ‘low’ annual CO2 emission growth of 2, 4.5 and 2 percent, respectively, according to the report.

Chinese demand for coal has been gradually declining since 2014, dropping 0.8 percent in 2014 and 1.5 percent last year. Energy-intensive production of cement and steel also decreased, as did production of electricity from fossil fuels (-2.7%). In contrast, hydroelectric power production increased 5 percent, energy from other renewable generation sources rose 21 percent, and nuclear energy 29 percent. That said, oil and natural gas consumption both increased by about 5 percent.

Natural gas displaces coal in U.S.

Nearly as much electricity (kWh of energy)  was produced from natural gas than coal in the U.S. for the first time in 2015, which was the main factor underlying the annual drop in U.S. CO2 emissions, PBL notes. More broadly, energy-related CO2 emissions have decreased 12 percent over the last 10 years in the U.S., due mainly to utilities shifting from coal to natural gas. Electricity demand, on the other hand, has come in at about the same level since 2005.

PBL and EC-JRC tallied CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion, waste gas flaring and other non-industrial combustion processes gathered from the joint JRC/PBL Emissions Database for Global Atmospheric Research (EDGAR). The report uses preliminary estimates based on the latest available statistics regarding energy use as well as other official and reputable independent sources. They omitted CO2 emissions statistics regarding deforestation, logging, forest and peat fires as they are accounted for separately and have a high degree of uncertainty.

King coal in global decline

As is typical, fossil fuel combustion accounted for the largest share of global emissions by far in 2015 — 86.5 percent. Fossil fuel prices continued to decline while primary energy consumption rose 1.0 percent across all world regions. The latter is well below the 10-year global average increase of 1.9 percent.

Global coal consumption dropped 1.8 percent year-over-year, decreasing most in the U.S. and China for the second year running. Those were offset by increases in India and Indonesia.

Utilities continued to switch to natural gas, increased combustion of which nearly offset the decrease from coal combustion, however. The largest increases were registered in the U.S. and E.U.

Coal combustion, primarily coal-fired power plants, accounts for 41 percent of global CO2 emissions and produces twice as much CO2 per joule of energy than natural gas combustion. The 2015 drop in the former and increase in the latter resulted in a net annual decrease in global CO2 emissions of 0.1 percent in 2015, PBL sums up.

CO2 Emissions: Top 5 Nations (69% of Global Total)

  • China: 30 percent
  • United States: 14 percent
  • European Union: (EU-28): 10 percent
  • India: 7 percent
  • Japan: 3.5 percent

Image credit: Ian Britton, courtesy Flickr

Andrew Burger
Andrew Burger
A product of the New York City public school system, Andrew Burger went on to study geology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, work in the wholesale money and capital markets for a major Japanese bank and earn an MBA in finance.

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