The U.S. was the global leader in emissions reductions in 2019, according to a recent report from the International Energy Agency (IEA). However, despite all the work done domestically, other countries around the world didn’t quite match the U.S.’s pace.
Driven by a 2.9% drop in CO2 emissions on the part of the U.S. (a fall of 140 Mt to 4.8 Gt), global emissions remained relatively flat in 2019 after two consecutive years of increases. While the U.S. led all other countries in terms of year-over-year improvement, countries of the European Union and Japan weren’t too far behind. Energy-related emissions coming from all countries in the E.U. dropped by 160 Mt, or 5%, to reach 2.9 Gt. Japan meanwhile saw its CO2 emissions fall 4.3% in 2019, which represented its most rapid decline since 2009.
Emissions outside of “advanced economies” grew by close to 400 Mt in 2019, with nearly 80% of that coming from countries in Asia. Coal demand continues to expand in Asia and accounts for more than 50% of energy use, which equates to around 10 Gt in emissions.
What’s Driving the Positive Trends?
Though coal is seeing a resurgence in parts of Asia, and according to another recent press release from the IEA, “remains by far the single largest source of power supply worldwide," here in the U.S. and in Europe, coal usage is continuing its downward trajectory. In advanced economies, electric generation coming from coal declined by almost 15% in 2019 due to the switch to natural gas, the continued growth of renewables, an increase in nuclear power usage, and a down year for electricity demand. Renewables – specifically wind and to a somewhat lesser extent solar – led the charge in CO2 emissions reductions. Combined, renewables were responsible for 130 Mt worth of emissions savings during the year.
Coal-to-gas switching helped avoid nearly 100 Mt of CO2 emissions in advanced economies. In the U.S., record-low prices for natural gas was a big factor in this reduction and helped lead to the largest share in electricity generation natural gas has ever had in the U.S. (37%). And while it wasn’t as stark domestically, Japan and Korea avoided more than 50 Mt in emissions by boosting their nuclear power generation.
Also worth noting when looking at future trends – a milder summer and winter in the U.S. reduced demand for air-conditioning and heating, which are typically among the biggest culprits when it comes to energy usage. And while winter 2020 appears just as mild as last year across many parts of the country, we’ll have to wait and see what kind of heat summer brings to know if lower electricity demand will continue.
The Edge: Can Other Nations Match the U.S. Efforts in Emission Reductions?
It seems like ancient history, but not that long ago many experts opined that a combination of natural gas and renewables could pave a new future for the U.S. in CO2 emissions reductions. According to the IEA, that future is now. Today, many of those same experts indicate that those reductions can only offset emission increases in developing nations. Through international policy and perhaps expanded usage of natural gas globally, the rest of the planet could follow the U.S. steps. But that’s for another Energy Edge.