Technology & Science

Emissions from power generation take biggest fall since 1990

Global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from the power sector fell by two per cent 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.

Wind, solar grew 15% last year, but need to do that every year to hit Paris targets

The Dave Johnson coal-fired power plant is silhouetted against the morning sun in Glenrock, Wyoming, in July 2018. Emissions from power generation fell two per cent last year, the biggest fall since 1990, reports the think-tank Ember. (J. David Ake/The Associated Press)

Global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from the power sector fell by two per cent 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-fired power generation fell by three per cent globally, also the largest fall since 1990, research by independent climate think tank Ember showed. The drop in Europe was 24 per cent, driven by a switch to renewables, while U.S. coal-fired generation was down 16 per cent because of more competitive gas.

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.

A disused coal-fired power station is destroyed via controlled explosion in Castrop Rauxel, Germany, in February 2019. Coal-fired power generation fell by three per cent globally in 2019, the largest fall since 1990. (Leon Kuegeler/Reuters)

Coal use needs to fall faster

Coal generation needs to fall by 11 per cent a year to keep within a warming limit of 1.5 C, the more ambitious of two targets set by the UN's Paris Agreement on climate change.

"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 said.

Wind and solar power generation rose by 270 terawatt hours, or 15 per cent, last year, but need to maintain that rate every year to reach Paris climate goals. (Darren Staples/Reuters)

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

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

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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