Global CO2 emissions hit record high in 2023, IEA says

Energy-related CO2 emissions rose by 410 million tons, or 1.1% year-on-year, reaching 37.4 billion tons in 2023. (Photo: Bloomberg)
Energy-related CO2 emissions rose by 410 million tons, or 1.1% year-on-year, reaching 37.4 billion tons in 2023. (Photo: Bloomberg)

Summary

Declines in Europe and the U.S. were offset by increases in China and India.

Global carbon-dioxide emissions reached a record high last year as extreme droughts hampered hydrocarbon production across large economies, leading to a substantial increase in fossil fuel use, according to the International Energy Agency.

Energy-related CO2 emissions rose by 410 million tons, or 1.1% year-on-year, reaching 37.4 billion tons in 2023, the Paris-based organization said Friday in its latest report. The use of fossil fuels to replace hydropower accounted for over 40% of the increase.

In India and China, heavy reliance on coal and higher electricity demand following the post-pandemic economic recovery pushed emissions significantly higher, offsetting reductions in other economies.

Emissions rose more than 7% on year in India, where a weaker monsoon season drove hydropower output lower. In China, emissions from energy combustion rose by 5.2% to 12.6 billion tons—by far the largest on a global scale despite the country’s leading position in the deployment of clean-energy technology. The agency’s report refers to emissions from all uses of fossil fuels for energy purposes and industrial processes.

In advanced economies instead, emissions fell 4.5% to a 50-year low last year, supported by a stronger deployment of renewables and energy-efficiency measures, but also weaker industrial production and milder weather in some regions resulting in lower energy demand.

According to the agency, electricity generation from renewable sources and nuclear power in those economies reached 50% of total generation. Renewables alone accounted for 34% of electricity output, while the share of coal fell to a historic low of 17%.

In the European Union, emissions from energy combustion fell by almost 9% in 2023 driven by a surge in renewables generation and drop in both coal and gas generation, despite economic growth of around 0.7%. In the U.S., emissions fell 4.1% on higher electricity generation from renewables and gas rather than coal, in spite of economic growth of 2.5%.

Still, the deployment of clean-energy sources remains overly concentrated in advanced economies and China, the IEA said, calling for greater international efforts to increase investment and deployment in emerging and developing economies.

Overall, the pace of global emission growth slowed down in 2023, supported by the expansion of renewable energy and electric vehicles, the IEA said. In 2022, energy-related CO2 emissions rose by 1.3%.

“Emissions are still seeing a structural slowdown," the agency said. “In the decade to 2023, global emissions grew slightly more than 0.5% per year, the slowest rate since the Great Depression."

Clean energy is at the heart of this slowdown, with global capacity additions of wind and solar power reaching almost 540 gigawatts last year, up 75% compared with 2022 levels, while sales of electric cars climbed 35% on year to around 14 million.

“The clean energy transition has undergone a series of stress tests in the last five years," the IEA Executive Director, Fatih Birol, said. “A pandemic, an energy crisis and geopolitical instability all had the potential to derail efforts to build cleaner and more secure energy systems. Instead, we’ve seen the opposite in many economies."

Write to Giulia Petroni at giulia.petroni@wsj.com

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