CO2 emissions aren’t rising as fast as initially feared this year, thanks to renewables.

Despite concerns about the effects of the current energy crisis, global carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel combustion are expected to grow by just under 1% this year. This is only a small fraction of their increase last year, as a strong expansion of renewables and electric vehicles is preventing a much sharper rise.

Emissions leaped last year as the world economy recovered from Covid-19 lockdowns, and there were concerns of another big rise this year, particularly with high natural gas prices pushing electricity producers to switch to coal. But IEA’s analysis of the latest data from around the world shows that CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion are set to increase by close to 300 million tonnes this year to 33.8 billion tonnes – a far smaller rise than last year’s jump of nearly 2 billion tonnes.  

The rise in global emissions this year would be more than three times as big were it not for the major deployments of renewables electric vehicles around the world. And the relatively small increase in coal emissions has been considerably outweighed by the expansion of renewables. 

Solar PV and wind are leading an increase in global renewable electricity generation in 2022 of more than 700 terawatt-hours (TWh), the largest annual rise on record. Without this increase, global CO2 emissions would be more than 600 million tonnes higher this year. The rapid deployment of solar and wind is on course to account for two-thirds of the growth in renewable power generation. Despite the challenging situation that hydropower has faced in several regions due to droughts this year, global hydropower output is up year-on-year, contributing over one-fifth of the expected growth in renewable power. 

While electricity generation from both wind and solar PV is growing far more than any other source in 2022, coal is expected to post the next largest increase as some countries revert to coal use in response to soaring natural gas prices. In total, global CO2 emissions from coal-fired power generation are set to grow by more than 200 million tonnes, or 2%, this year, led by increases in Asia.

The European Union’s CO2 emissions are on course to decline this year despite an increase in coal emissions. The rise in European coal use is expected to be temporary, with a strong pipeline of new renewable projects forecast to add around 50 gigawatts of capacity in 2023. These additions would generate more electricity than the expected increase in coal-fired power generation in the EU in 2022. In China, CO2 emissions are set to remain broadly flat this year, reflecting the mixture of different forces at work, including weaker economic growth, the impacts of drought on hydropower, and major deployments of solar and wind.

As well as the challenges for hydropower in some regions, the world’s low-emissions electricity supply has suffered a setback from a series of nuclear power plant outages, which are set to reduce global nuclear power production by over 80 TWh. This has largely been due to more than half of France’s fleet of nuclear reactors being offline for part of the year. The drop in nuclear power generation globally has contributed to an increased use of coal and oil for electricity generation. The world’s use of natural gas is expected to decline, resulting in a decrease in CO2 emissions of around 40 million tonnes in 2022.