Global CO2 Levels Stay Flat for a Third Year

Data shows that global CO2 emissions have remained roughly the same for the third year in a row. Although that’s good news for the fight against climate change, it’s important to put this data in perspective. 

 International Energy Agency Executive (IEA) Director Fatih Birol explained:

These three years of flat emissions in a growing global economy signal an emerging trend and that is certainly a cause for optimism, even if it is too soon to say that global emissions have definitely peaked. They are also a sign that market dynamics and technological improvements matter. This is especially true in the United States, where abundant shale gas supplies have become a cheap power source.

While there was largely no change in Europe, the biggest differences came from two of the world’s major energy users: the United States and China. Combined, these huge nations helped to offset increases in carbon emissions from other countries.

Of course, China has made no secret of its efforts to achieve a greener future. This initiative certainly manifested over the past year, with a reduction in coal use. While the country continues to struggle with smog, its plans to become a world leader in renewable energy are both admirable and ambitious.

According to these figures, China’s coal use fell by a modest-sounding — yet still substantial — one percent. However, the IEA is keen to highlight that China’s economy grew by 6.7 percent over the same time period.

The United States mirrored this pattern, with CO2 emissions declining by three percent while the economy grew by 1.6 percent.

It can be tricky to evaluate such figures in terms of any one outcome, simply because there are so many factors that can impact economic growth. But given the current body of evidence, energy policy analysts can say with even greater confidence that reducing CO2 emissions need not be a barrier for economic growth.

Indeed, the IEA notes that renewable energy across the globe is on the rise:

In 2016, renewables supplied more than half the global electricity demand growth, with hydro accounting for half of that share. The overall increase in the world’s nuclear net capacity last year was the highest since 1993, with new reactors coming online in China, the United States, South Korea, India, Russia and Pakistan. Coal demand fell worldwide but the drop was particularly sharp in the United States, where demand was down 11% in 2016. For the first time, electricity generation from natural gas was higher than from coal last year in the United States.

This finding starkly opposes what critics of the climate change consensus would have us believe. What’s more, it directly calls into question the Trump administration’s plans to resurrect the U.S. coal industry – an effort that could seriously undermine the country’s ability to meet its Paris Agreement targets.

Our carbon problems haven’t just disappeared.

Some right-wing news sites are already using the IEA’s data to once again argue that man-made climate change isn’t real. Of course, that claim is ludicrous given the overwhelming scientific consensus. It also misses the point.

The IEA’s findings show that CO2 levels have remained fairly constant on a global scale. One of the central reasons for this pattern was a global shift away from coal to natural gas. Additionally, the renewable energy sector has continued to invigorate the market, despite a greatly subsidized fossil fuel industry.

Not all nations kept to that trend, though. And while global CO2 levels haven’t risen, they’ve not fallen either.

Under the Paris Agreement, the world has committed to ensuring CO2 emissions peak as soon as possible, and then rapidly decline thereafter. While the shift away from coal is definitely meaningful, the data can’t yet tell us if we have reached that peak. But we must — and fast — if we are to have any hope of keeping our global temperatures below the 2ºC warming threshold.

Furthermore, CO2 output does not mean a leveling off in warming. And worrying signs continue to emerge from other data — for example, a rise in global rainfall rates and wintertime smog, both linked to climate change.

So, to be clear, the CO2 plateau observed by scientists should be celebrated, but it does not mean our work on global warming is anywhere near complete. We must oppose any attempts to backslide — namely, the Trump administration’s push for renewed investment in the coal industry, as well as hostile policies toward renewables that have emerged from some conservative governments.

Photo Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Follow /Flickr


Marie W
Marie W1 years ago

Thanks for sharing

Melania P
Melania P2 years ago

It does not matter much; we surpassed the 400 ppm already and that is very worrying

Telica R
Telica R2 years ago

Thanks for sharing

heather g
heather g2 years ago

The statistics are encouraging - for a start

Patricia H
Patricia Harris2 years ago

Or should I say ''Slow'' climate change!?

Patricia H
Patricia Harris2 years ago

darcia hurst, is correct. We still have to do more to ensure that things get better for the planet. Plant lots of trees, keep marching/protesting, and demand that these fools do exactly as we want them to. Unless we do all that, THEN will it be safe to say that we will NEVER be able to stop climate change or the ongoing mass extinction of animal species.

Patricia H
Patricia Harris2 years ago

Johan Maltesson said ''s long as mass consumption and vehicle numbers continue to increase across the globe, we will never be able to stop climate change or the ongoing mass extinction of species.'' ''Never'' is not in a good activist's vocabulary!

darcia hurst
darcia hurst2 years ago

I am rejoicing some good news for a Chang! But of course we must do much more. Renewable energy must continue to increase and will create good jobs. I wish the coal miner would seek employment in this industry it would be so much better for them and the world. I am so tired of the argument that addressing climate change will hurt jobs, no, it will help create better jobs! Why aren't these same people that make this argument crying about technology, that is really what will take away jobs.

william Miller
william Miller2 years ago


Anne M
Anne M2 years ago

Good on the U.S. and China,, have to do better though, and strive harder in the future...