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IEA Confirms Decoupling Of Global Emissions & Economic Growth

The International Energy Agency has confirmed in a new report the decoupling of global emissions and economic growth.

For many years it was assumed that global emissions and economic growth were tied together in an unbreakable knot, however, recent years have seen signs indicating this may not necessarily be the case. According to analysis of preliminary data for 2015 released this week by the International Energy Agency (IEA), global energy related carbon dioxide emissions stayed flat for the second year in a row, while economic growth continues.

“The new figures confirm last year’s surprising but welcome news: we now have seen two straight years of greenhouse gas emissions decoupling from economic growth,” said IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol. “Coming just a few months after the landmark COP21 agreement in Paris, this is yet another boost to the global fight against climate change.”


Specifically, global emissions of carbon dioxide remained at 32.1 billion tonnes in 2015, having remained “essentially flat” since 2013. Preliminary data suggests that the increase in the amount of electricity generated by renewable energy played a critical role, as it accounted for around 90% of all new electricity generation in 2015.

However, interestingly, the news comes on the heels of a report from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii, which reported an unprecedented spike in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels in 2015. The increase is the largest ever seen in recorded history, with CO2 jumping by 3.05 parts per million to sit at 402.59 ppm.

The two reports are not inherently counter to one another, as atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are not reliant upon only one year’s worth of emissions. The current flat trend of emissions will begin to affect atmospheric carbon dioxide levels in years to come. The current spike is also partially the result of a strong El Niño weather pattern, which again separates the two reports from one another.

The IEA makes note that, in the 40 years that it has been monitoring CO2 emissions, there have only been four periods in which emissions stood still or fell compared to the previous year, and each was associated with a corresponding global weakness (such as 2009’s global economic crisis). This most recent stall in emissions, however, has come at the same time as economic expansion — according to the International Monetary Fund, global GDP grew by 3.4% in 2014 and 3.1% in 2015.

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