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New Energy World magazine logo
New Energy World magazine logo
ISSN 2753-7757 (Online)

Global carbon emissions rose less than initially feared in 2022


View of chimney emissions at a power plant at sunset Photo: Pixabay
While the 1.6% increase in global coal-related CO2 emissions in 2022 was only around one-quarter of 2021’s rise, it still far exceeded the last decade’s average growth rate, according to the latest analysis from the International Energy Agency

Photo: Pixabay

The risk of runaway emissions growth resulting from a shift to coal amid the global energy crisis failed to materialise last year as growth in clean energy (renewables, electric vehicles (EVs), heat pumps, efficiency etc) offset much of the impact of greater coal and oil use, according to the latest analysis from the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Global energy-related CO2 emissions rose by under 1% in 2022 – less than initially feared and far smaller than the exceptional jump of over 6% in 2021, says the new report. However, emissions still remain on an unsustainable growth trajectory and the IEA is calling for ‘stronger actions to accelerate the clean energy transition and move the world onto a path towards meeting its energy and climate goals’.


The CO2 emissions in 2022 report is the first in a new series, the Global Energy Transitions Stocktake, which will bring together the IEA’s latest analysis in one place, making it freely accessible in support of the first global stocktake in the lead-up to the COP28 climate change conference in November 2023.


Global energy-related CO2 emissions grew in 2022 by 0.9%, or 321mn tonnes, according to the report, reaching a new high of more than 36.8bn tonnes. The rise in emissions was significantly slower than global economic growth of 3.2%, signalling a return to a decade-long trend that was interrupted in 2021 by the rapid and emissions-intensive economic rebound from the COVID crisis. Extreme weather events including droughts and heatwaves, as well as an unusually large number of nuclear power plants being offline, contributed to the rise in emissions, some 60mn and 55mn tonnes of CO2 respectively. But an additional 550mn tonnes of emissions were avoided by increased deployment of clean energy technologies.


‘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. Without clean energy, the growth in CO2 emissions would have been nearly three times as high,’ comments IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol. ‘However, we still see emissions growing from fossil fuels, hindering efforts to meet the world’s climate targets. 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.’


Coal related CO2 emissions grew by 1.6%, or 243mn tonnes, as the global energy crisis continued to spur a wave of gas-to-coal switching in Asia, and to a lesser degree in Europe, according to the study. While the increase in coal emissions was only around one-quarter of 2021’s rise, it still far exceeded the last decade’s average growth rate. The increase in emissions from coal more than offset the 1.6% (118mn tonnes) decline in emissions from natural gas as supply continued to tighten following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and as European businesses and citizens responded with efforts to cut their gas use.


Meanwhile, CO2 emissions from oil are reported to have grown even more than those from coal, increasing by 2.5% (268mn tonnes) in 2022 but still remaining below pre-pandemic levels. Around half of the year-on-year increase in oil’s emissions came from aviation as air travel continued to rebound from pandemic lows. Tempering this increase, EVs continued to gain momentum in 2022, with over 10mn cars sold, exceeding 14% of global car sales.


The biggest sectoral increase in emissions in 2022 came from electricity and heat generation, whose emissions were up by 1.8% (261mn tonnes), according to the report. In particular, global emissions from coal-fired electricity and heat generation grew by 224mn tonnes, or 2.1%, led by emerging economies in Asia.


China’s emissions were broadly flat in 2022, declining by 0.2%, as strict COVID-19 measures and declining construction activity led to weaker economic growth and reductions in industrial and transport emissions, notes the report. The European Union’s emissions fell by 2.5%, thanks to record deployment of renewables helping ensure the use of coal was not as high as some observers had anticipated. A mild start to the European winter and energy savings measures in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine also contributed. In the US, emissions grew by 0.8% as buildings increased their energy consumption to cope with extreme temperatures. Excluding China, emissions from Asia’s emerging and developing economies increased by 4.2% (206mn tonnes), reflecting their rapid economic and energy demand growth. Over half of the region’s increase in emissions came from coal-fired power generation.


The report covers CO2 emissions from all energy combustion and industrial processes – and also includes information on methane and nitrous oxide emissions, providing complete picture of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions in 2022.