CO2 Emissions from Fossil Fuels Drop Globally Due to Expansion of Renewables: IEA

Emissions from fossil fuels are set to grow only by a fraction in 2022


Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from fossil fuel combustion globally are expected to grow by just under 1% this year as the strong expansion of renewables and electric vehicles prevent a sharper rise, according to a report by the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Data shows emissions will rise by nearly 300 million tons in 2022 to 33.8 billion tons, mainly driven by power generation and the aviation sector, as air travel rebounds. This is a far smaller rise than the jump of nearly 2 billion tons last year, owing to the rapid global recovery from the economic crisis triggered by COVID-19.

A key reason for emissions being drastically cut down is the major deployments of renewable energy technologies and electric vehicles (EVs) worldwide.

Solar, Wind lead the transition 

Solar and wind power cumulatively accounted for more than 700 TWh, the largest annual rise on record. Without these contributions, global CO2 emissions would be more than 600 million tons higher this year. Deployment of solar and wind is on course to soon account for two-thirds of the growth in renewable power generation. Global hydropower output is up year-on-year, contributing over one-fifth of renewable power.

Coal, however, is still expected to post the next largest increase as a few countries revert to using it in response to the soaring natural gas prices. Cumulatively, CO2 emissions globally from coal-fired power generating units are set to grow by more than 200 million tons, or 2%, this year.

Geo-political and Economic Factors

While the Russia-Ukraine war sparked a major energy crisis that propped up the global coal demand in 2022, the relatively minor increase in coal emissions has been considerably outweighed by the expansion of renewables. The world’s use of natural gas is expected to decline following the war in Ukraine, resulting in a decrease in CO2 emissions of around 40 million tons in 2022.

IEA suggests that European Union’s emissions are on course to decline despite an increase in coal emissions. The rise in European coal use is expected to be temporary, with a strong pipeline of new renewable projects forecast to add around 50 GW of capacity in 2023. These additions are expected to generate more electricity than the expected increase in coal-fired power generation in the EU in 2022.

China’s emissions are set to remain broadly flat this year, reflecting the mixture of different forces, such as weak economic growth, impacts of drought on hydropower, and major solar and wind deployments.

Challenges Ahead

Oil demand is set to grow more than any other fossil fuel in 2022, with oil-related CO2 emissions up by around 180 million tons. This has been driven largely by the transport sector as travel restrictions have been lifted. Aviation is expected to contribute around three-quarters of the rise in emissions from oil use, notably due to increases in international air travel.

The report notes that the uncertainty in natural gas markets will continue to shape energy trends for the rest of this year and the following.

However, promising signs of structural changes to the CO2 intensity of global energy are evident. These are set to be reinforced by major increases in government support for clean energy investment, notably from the Inflation Reduction Act in the U.S., the decarbonization plans by the European Union and Japan’s Green Transformation plan, and a set of ambitious clean energy targets set by China and India.

According to IEA’s Renewable Energy Market Updates – Outlook for 2021 and 2022, renewable energy is expected to account for 90% of the global power capacity increase in 2021 and 2022.

In another report, the organization forecasted that renewable capacity addition in 2022 to grow by 8% and breach 300 GW for the first time.