Growth in energy-related carbon dioxide emissions slowed to less than 1% in 2022, despite fears of more significant energy crisis-related emissions growth, as advances in clean energy generation and technologies largely offset increased use of fossil energy sources, according to a new report by the International Energy Agency (IEA). The increase marked a sharp slowdown from 2021’s 6% emissions growth, which largely reflected a rebound from a 5% COVID-driven decline in the prior year.

In total, energy-related emissions – including energy combustion and industrial processes – grew by 321 million tonnes, or 0.9%, in 2022, hitting a record-high 36.8 billion tonnes, but well below the 3.2% rate of global economic growth.

Emissions growth from energy combustion of 423 million tonnes was partly offset by a 102 million tonne decline in emissions from industrial processes. Declines in industrial emissions were largely driven by an industrial slowdown in China, which saw cement production and steelmaking fall by 10% and 2%, respectively. Energy combustion growth was exacerbated by heating and cooling needs due to extreme weather events, and an unusually large number of nuclear plants being offline through the year.

By source, emissions from coal grew by 243 million tonnes, or 1.6% in 2022, driven by a wave of coal-to-gas switching as a result of the Russian war in Ukraine, partly offset by a 188 million tonne decline in natural gas-related emissions. Emissions from oil increased by 268 million tonnes, up 2.5%, with approximately half of the growth resulting in a rebound in air travel, partly offset by an increase in electric vehicle sales in the year.

Growth in clean energy sources and technologies significantly tempered the emissions increase in the year, according to the report. Increased deployment of solar PV and wind generation, as well as clean energy technologies such as electric vehicles and heat pumps helped avoid 550 million tonnes of CO2 emissions in 2022.

IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said:

“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.”

Overall, renewables accounted for 90% of the growth in electricity generation in 2022, with the report noting that energy-related emissions growth would have been three times as high without this clean energy deployment.

By region, the European Union saw emissions fall by 2.5% in the year despite energy crisis-related headwinds, with coal use growing less than expected and an increase in renewables, and a sharp decline in building sector emissions during a mild winter. The U.S. saw emissions growth of 0.8%, as increased solar and wind deployment and coal-to-gas switching was offset by growth in building sector emissions driven by extreme temperatures. Energy-related emissions in China were roughly flat, growing by 0.2%, as declines from industrial processes were offset by growing emissions fro combustion.

Birol added:

“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.”

Click here to access the IEA report, “CO2 Emissions in 2022.”

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