Energy Transition

Global CO2 emissions from power sector fell 2% last year. Here’s how

A cooling tower of a coal-burning power plant topples during a controlled demolition in Guiyang, Guizhou province, China, July 22, 2015.  Picture taken July 22, 2015. REUTERS/Stringer CHINA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN CHINA           TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY      - GF10000167453

Coal-power generation fell 3%. Image: REUTERS/Stringer

Nina Chestney
Reporter, Reuters
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Decarbonizing Energy

  • Carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector fell 2% in 2019 - the biggest fall since at least 1990.
  • This was largely driven by falling coal usage in Europe and the US.
  • More work is still needed, though, to met the Paris Agreement targets.

Global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from the power sector fell by 2% last year, the biggest fall since at least 1990, owing to reduced coal usage in Europe and the United States, a study showed on Monday.

coal power energy carbon dioxide greenhouse gas emissions pollution usa china united kingdom coal gas renewable wind solar hydroelectric electricity sustainability climate change
A disused coal-fired power station is destroyed via controlled explosion in Castrop Rauxel, Germany. Image: REUTERS/Leon Kuegeler/File Photo

Coal-fired power generation fell by 3% globally, also the largest fall since 1990, research by independent climate think tank Ember showed. The drop in Europe was 24%, driven by a switch to renewables, while U.S. coal-fired generation was down 16% because of more competitive gas.

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However, China bucked the trend with a rise as it became responsible for half of global coal-fired power generation.

Overall, the decline in coal use last year and shift toward renewables was helped by factors such as cheap gas, nuclear plant restarts in Japan and South Korea and slowing electricity demand, the report said.

2019 global electricity generation changes in key coal consuming countries
The USA and Europe saw drops of 24% and 16% in coal usage in 2019. Image: Ember - Global Electricity Review 2020

Coal generation needs to fall by 11% a year to keep within a warming limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius.

“The global decline of coal and power sector emissions is good news for the climate, but governments have to dramatically accelerate the electricity transition so that global coal generation collapses throughout the 2020s,” said Dave Jones, lead author of the report and electricity analyst at Ember.

“To switch from coal into gas is just swapping one fossil fuel for another,” he added.

Wind and solar power generation rose by 270 terrawatt hours, or 15%, last year. That growth rate would need to be maintained every year to achieve climate goals under the Paris Agreement.

The report examined data covering 85% of the world’s electricity generation and used informed estimates for the remaining 15%.

Last month the International Energy Agency said that global CO2 emissions from power production flattened last year as growth of renewable energy and fuel switching from coal to natural gas led to lower emissions from advanced economies.

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