Renewable Energy Is Slowing the Rise of Carbon Emissions

Solar panels and wind turbines in China’s Jiangsu province. CFOTO/Future Publishing via Getty Images


Global carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels are on track to increase by just under one percent this year, compared to 2021’s total, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said in a statement last week.

In 2021, planet-warming carbon dioxide emissions rose by almost two billion tons compared to the prior year. Now, it appears the world will post an increase of just 300 million tons in 2022.

Despite rising demand for coal, an expansion of renewable energy and electric vehicles prevented the jump in emissions from being even larger. Renewable energy generation, led by solar and wind development, is set to ramp up by more than 700 terawatt-hours this year, which would be the largest annual rise on record, according to the IEA.

Since the start of the 20th century, yearly carbon dioxide emissions have risen from around 2 billion metric tons worldwide to more than 36 billion metric tons in 2019. Though clean energy successfully stunted the world’s emissions growth this year, experts say that what’s most challenging—and most crucial—will be turning that growth trend around.

The world saw a record-setting drop in emissions in 2020 at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, but emissions then increased by nearly 5 percent in 2021, according to Benjamin Storrow of E&E News. Now, with people returning to their pre-pandemic travel and commuting routines, oil-related carbon dioxide emissions are set to increase again in 2022, according to the report.

On the other side of the scale, continuing Covid-19 lockdowns in China have decreased demand for fossil fuels, per E&E News.

The pandemic isn’t the only global event that influenced energy use this year. After Russia invaded Ukraine, it withheld natural gas from the international market. Europe’s rush to purchase liquid natural gas increased its price, raising demand for coal instead, per E&E News. Emissions from coal use are expected to rise by two percent this year.

But the expansion of renewables has more than offset the increase in coal. The expected rise in renewable electricity should offset at least 600 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, roughly the equivalent of Canada’s annual emissions, writes Protocol’s Michelle Ma.

Notably, global hydropower output is increasing, and it should contribute one-fifth of the anticipated increase in renewable energy this year, according to the IEA. This boost comes despite droughts in China and Europe, per E&E News.

Compared to 2021, the outlook for this year’s climate impact is promising—but in reality, emissions need to be decreasing rapidly in order to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. The Paris Agreement calls for limiting global temperature increase to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels. Doing so requires cutting the world’s emissions by 45 percent by 2030 and reaching net zero emissions by 2050, according to the United Nations.

Representatives will meet in Egypt in less than three weeks for COP27, the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference. Countries are expected to discuss keeping their emissions plans in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement, writes CNN’s Angela Dewan.

The environmental think tank World Resources Institute published a report Wednesday, which found that emissions are on track to drop by only seven percent by 2030, if countries follow their current plans, according to Frank Jordans of the Associated Press (AP).

“Just peaking global emissions is the first and easiest step on the road to solving climate change,” Zeke Hausfather, a climate researcher at the payment processing firm Stripe, tells E&E News. “We need to get emissions all the way down to zero, which is much harder.”

Will Sullivan

Will Sullivan


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