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

Major clean energy growth limited the rise in global emissions in 2023, says IEA


Smoke from three chimneys Photo: Lux Research
A new IEA report suggests that without clean energy technologies the global increase in CO2 emissions in the last five years would have been three times larger

Photo: Lux Research

Global energy-related CO2 emissions increased in 2023 as exceptional droughts hit hydropower. However, the rise was lower than in 2022 even as total energy demand growth accelerated, thanks to the expansion of technologies such as solar photovoltaics (PV), wind, nuclear and electric vehicles (EVs), according to the latest report from the International Energy Agency (IEA).

The report also suggests that without clean energy technologies the global increase in CO2 emissions in the last five years would have been three times larger.


Emissions increased by 410mn tonnes, or 1.1%, in 2023 – compared with a rise of 490mn tonnes the year before – taking them to a record level of 37.4bn tonnes. An exceptional shortfall in hydropower due to extreme droughts – in China, the US and several other economies – resulted in over 40% of the rise in emissions in 2023 as countries turned largely to fossil fuel alternatives to plug the gap. Had it not been for the unusually low hydropower output, global CO2 emissions from electricity generation would have declined last year, making the overall rise in energy-related emissions significantly smaller, notes the IEA.


The new findings come from the IEA’s annual update on global energy-related CO2 emissions – and the inaugural edition of the Clean Energy Market Monitor.  


Advanced economies saw a record fall in their CO2 emissions in 2023 even as their GDP grew. Their emissions dropped to a 50-year low while coal demand fell back to levels not seen since the early 1900s. The decline in advanced economies’ emissions was driven by a combination of strong renewables deployment, coal-to-gas switching, energy efficiency improvements and softer industrial production. Last year was the first in which at least half of electricity generation in advanced economies came from low-emissions sources like renewables and nuclear.


‘The clean energy transition has undergone a series of stress tests in the last five years – and it has demonstrated its resilience,’ says IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol. ‘The clean energy transition is continuing apace and reining in emissions – even with global energy demand growing more strongly in 2023 than in 2022. The commitments made by nearly 200 countries at COP28 in Dubai in December show what the world needs to do to put emissions on a downward trajectory. Most importantly, we need far greater efforts to enable emerging and developing economies to ramp up clean energy investment.’


From 2019 to 2023, growth in clean energy was twice as large as that of fossil fuels. The new IEA analysis shows that the deployment of clean energy technologies in the past five years has substantially limited increases in demand for fossil fuels, providing the opportunity to accelerate the transition away from them this decade.


The deployment of wind and solar PV in electricity systems worldwide since 2019 has been sufficient to avoid an amount of annual coal consumption equivalent to that of India and Indonesia’s electricity sectors combined – and to dent annual natural gas demand by an amount equivalent to Russia’s pre-war natural gas exports to the European Union. The growing number of EVs on the roads, accounting for one-in-five new car sales globally in 2023, also played a significant role in keeping oil demand (in terms of energy content) from rising above pre-pandemic levels.


The Clean Energy Market Monitor shows that clean energy deployment remains overly concentrated in advanced economies and China, highlighting the need for greater international efforts to increase clean energy investment and deployment in emerging and developing economies. In 2023, advanced economies and China accounted for 90% of new solar PV and wind power plants globally, and 95% of sales of EVs. Not all clean energy technologies progressed in 2023. Heat pump sales fell marginally as squeezed consumers held back on purchases of big-ticket items, highlighting the importance of continued policy support for equitable transitions, says the IEA.


China’s deployment of clean energy technology continued to surge ahead as it added as much solar PV capacity in 2023 than the entire world did in 2022. However, a historically bad year for hydropower output and the continued reopening of its economy after the pandemic drove up China’s emissions, which grew by around 565mn tonnes in 2023.


In India, strong GDP growth drove up emissions by around 190mn tonnes in 2023. A weaker than normal monsoon increased demand for electricity and cut hydropower production, accounting for a quarter of the increase in India’s total emissions. Per capita emissions in India still remain far below the world average.