Solar, wind power aid unprecedented halt in global emissions | RenewEconomy

Solar, wind power aid unprecedented halt in global emissions

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For first time, the rise in global greenhouse gas emissions has stopped, even as economic growth continues. The IEA credits the impact of solar and wind energy, and hydro. Others say it increases chances of a climate deal in Paris, as people understand a solution is at hand.

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The International Energy Agency has hailed a “surprising” and “unprecedented” halt in the rise of global carbon dioxide emissions – an event it directly credits to the growth in solar and wind power, increased hydro, and the decline in coal-fired generation.

The IEA says global CO2 emissions stood at 32.3 billion tonnes in 2014, unchanged from the preceding year, despite a 3 per cent increase in global economic growth. It says this is the first time in 40 years in which there was a halt or reduction in emissions of greenhouse gases that was not tied to an economic downturn such as the global financial crisis.

Workers at Dafeng Power Station

Specifically, the IEA attributes the halt in emissions growth to changing patterns of energy consumption in China and OECD countries, and the growing use of renewables, particularly solar and wind power – which are now beginning to have a real impact on energy emissions.

In China, it notes, “2014 saw greater generation of electricity from renewable sources, such as hydropower, solar and wind, and less burning of coal.” China is now the world’s biggest investor in renewable energy generation.

The IEA also said recent efforts to promote more sustainable growth – including greater energy efficiency and more renewable energy – in OECD countries are producing the desired effect of decoupling economic growth from greenhouse gas emissions.

“This is both a very welcome surprise and a significant one,” said Fatih Birol, the IEA’s chief economist who is soon to take over as executive director of the organisation. He said, the decoupling of greenhouse gas emissions from economic growth would give much-needed momentum to negotiators preparing to forge a global climate deal in Paris in December.

“This gives me even more hope that humankind will be able to work together to combat climate change, the most important threat facing us today,” Birol said.

Indeed, the significance of the IEA’s findings should not be underestimated. It is recognition from the IEA, long regarded as a staid, conservative organisation focused on fossil fuels and centralised generation, that renewable energy is having an impact, and can achieve real reduction in emissions.

Michael Mann, climatologist, geophysicist, and director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University, told CleanTechnica: “This a hopeful demonstration of the fact that we can decarbonise and grow the economy at the same time.”

One of the underlying reasons why Copenhagen unravelled was because of the presumed cost of decarbonisation. But in the past five years, the cost of solar PV has fallen by 80 per cent and wind energy by more than 30 per cent, meaning that they can be constructed in some countries without subsidies, and many others will soon follow.

That has given confidence that many of the solutions are at hand. A report by the International Renewable Energy Agency suggested half the emissions abatement task could be reached with energy efficiency, and the other half by the deployment of renewables.

Doubling the penetration of renewables in the global electricity market to 36 per cent by 2030 could be done at no additional cost to business as usual, which is probably taking the world to around 21 per cent renewables by 2030.

India has plans to install another 100GW itself by 2022, and China the same by 2020. The US solar market is also soaring, and in other growing markets, such as the Middle East and north Africa, more than half the new capacity could be solar, according to some energy developers.

India, according to Deutsche Bank, will deliver 25 per cent of its electricity needs from solar by 2022 if it meets its solar target, China is looking to at least 20 per cent renewables by 2030, and could go to 26 per cent. Its coal use in the last year was down 2.9 per cent, another major factor in the stall in global emissions growth.

Its government is under huge pressure to reduce coal burning, and lift its environmental game, following the stunning success of the Under the Dome documentary, viewed by more than 200 million people before it was pulled down a week ago. But it already signalled it is ready to cut a deal with the US on climate, a potential $4.5 trillion blow to the fossil fuel industry.

The US Department of Energy said last week that at least 20 per cent wind was possible by 2030, and 41 per cent by 2050. The EU is basing its 40 per cent emission reduction targets largely around renewables and energy efficiency.

The IEA said there had only been three times in 40 years in which emissions had stood still or fallen compared to the previous year – the early 1980’s, 1992 and 2009 – and all were associated with global economic weakness. It will release further details of its analysis in June.

It promises to be a critical moment in the lead up to Paris, and one that could help countries find a way to lift their individual abatement targets, which will be crucial for an outcome in Paris, which may not provide the big bang solution to limiting average global warming to 2°C, but must at least find a platform that allows those targets to be reached.

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  1. Rob G 5 years ago

    There is no doubt that renewables have now kicked in. The world has come to a turning point in both climate change action acceptance and its realisation that renewables are reliable and more affordable than old power sources.

    The results coming from China may have been different had below average rainfall rather than what was higher than average rainfall. After all they do have a lot of hydropower.

    • Bob_Wallace 5 years ago

      Do you know of any up to date annual hydro production data for China? I can’t find anything past 2012.

      • Rob G 5 years ago

        Hi Bob, my reference to China was based on some analysis done on China’s renewables – looking specifically at Hydro. I don’t recall where I read it, but the overall assessment pointed to the growing hydro coupled with the last couple of years being particularly good. The report may have been published on this site as it it the site I mostly frequent or which covers this kind of news. It was only a couple of months ago.

        • Bob_Wallace 5 years ago

          Thanks. I’ve been looking for some 2013 and 2014 numbers for Chinese power generation, trying to get ahead of the IEA data release. Looks like I’ll have to be patient.

  2. Ben Courtice 5 years ago

    “Halt in emissions” would be wonderful. The more accurate “Halt in rise of emissions” means the speedo is maxed out — not exactly a great place to be when the brakes appear to have been sabotaged.

    • Bob_Wallace 5 years ago

      A halt in the rise of emissions is wonderful.

      If you want to back the train back up the tracks you have to first bring it to a stop.

  3. Chatteris 5 years ago

    If figures like this come in again next year, we may well have turned a corner. Let us hope and let us keep the pressure up.

    Politicians of course will be breathing a collective sigh of relief at this news since it suggests that they can continue to make economic growth the main plank of their economic policies, and growing economies keep them in power. ‘Green growth’ will be their slogan.

    However, the environmental need for a steady-state, full-spectrum renewable economy will have to be faced eventually, first in the developed countries and later in the developing ones.

  4. Ian 5 years ago

    renewables are becoming well- established as a reliable means of electricity production, but plenty of work still needs to be done to decarbonise transportation. cruise ships for example use 140 to 150 tonnes of oil a day, roughly the same as Boeing 747 on a 10 hr flight. There are literally thousands of similar sized vessels travelling at any time. Hard to see how renewables can substitute for fossil fuel in such transportation. Perhaps thorium reactor powered ships, or extensive high-speed rail networks, or perhaps decentralised manufacturing. countries like Australia could make their own goods instead of importing so extensively from China.

    • Bob_Wallace 5 years ago

      We’ve got a better shot with biofuels.

      We are likely to see more manufacturing, especially of heavy/bulky goods move closer to the point of consumption. Labor inputs continue to shrink which makes shipping a relatively larger cost.

      Can you imagine the problems of thousands of nuclear reactors floating around the world? Who would run these things? Wouldn’t terrorists love having all those targets handed to them.

      Plus that would make shipping too expensive to consider.

      A good start would be to move most of our highway freight to rail. And electrify that rail. We’ll be freeing up a lot of tracks as we cut coal and oil use.

      • Social responsibility is dead. 5 years ago

        We won’t need to move nearly as much coal, oil and gas around the globe, and can just grow more food locally.
        Won’t be all bad!

        • Social responsibility is dead. 5 years ago

          Biofuels also do produce CO2.

          • Bob_Wallace 5 years ago

            Biofuels are recycling carbon that is already above ground.

            The issue is keeping carbon stored beneath the surface below the surface.

      • zn 5 years ago

        Cutting out fossil fuels is a virtuous cycle, because the less coal and oil we use the less we need to transport it, and that alone would amount to a huge reduction in emissions. If we can take even one large oil tanker of the seas that equates to millions of cars being taken of the road.

        As for the rest, while I don’t have a solution per se, I’ve often thought that solar power could be used to create hydrogen that could be used to power ships/planes. I’m no chemical engineer, so this is just pure guesswork. But maybe not…

        • Bob_Wallace 5 years ago

          We could move a lot of air travel to electrified high speed rail.

          While that would work for only moderate length trips over land it would have a large impact on CO2 per passenger mile. Fuel use is high during takeoff.

  5. ouchosparks 5 years ago

    The Big Bang Solution is for the RoW to invade the USA and overthrow its neoliberal Carbon-loving government.

    • Social responsibility is dead. 5 years ago

      They are not as bad as ours at the moment – would be nice if we had democracy in Australia 🙂
      Most people love renewable energy, believe the science, and want something done!

      • zn 5 years ago

        Last I checked, Australia is still a democracy.

  6. Maurice Oldis 5 years ago

    Fantastic news-we (humanity) can do it!!!!

  7. Michael Rynn 5 years ago

    PwC predicted 2.5% growth in CO2 emissions in 2015, with 0.9% of growth de-carbonized. Clean energy progress is OK, but has to replace as well as supplement carbon energy emissions. As we have been in global ecological over-shoot for around 20 years, growth in total consumption is still a problem. We still have population growth, emissions growth, and consumption growth. The absolute rate of carbon emissions needs to decline. Mauna Loa CO2 has same old rising trend, average rising up past 400 ppm as if nothing new for CO2 has happened over past decade. This data measure is unlikely to be falsified. The 2008 GFC barely registered. Only when growth in atmosphere CO2 stops and declines over several years can we share round the congratulations.

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