In 2015, after three years of slow growth, the growth of global CO2 emissions from fossil-fuel use and from steel and cement production was brought to a standstill. One of the main causes was the 2% global decrease in coal burning and cement production - the largest decrease over the past five decades, apart from recessions. The global decrease in CO2 emissions from coal use was offset by increasing emissions from the combustion of natural gas and oil products.
Changes in fossil-fuel mix affecting CO2 emissions
Global primary energy consumption increased by 1.0% in 2015, which was similar to 2014 but well below the 10-year average increase of 1.9%. In 2015, global coal consumption decreased by 1.8%. The largest decreases in coal consumption were seen in the United States and China. Global oil and natural gas consumption increased by 1.9% and 1.7%, respectively. Since coal, compared to natural gas, produces twice as much CO2 per Joule, global CO2 emissions decreased by 0.1% in 2015.
Coal-fired power plants emit one third of fossil-fuel CO2 emissions
Globally, coal combustion accounts for 41% of total CO2 emissions, and coal-fired power plants emit by far the largest share, with some 30% of all fossil-fuel combustion emissions. The Chinese share is 48%, and in India this is 47%, whereas in the United States it is 31% and in the European Union 29%. In 2015, the total amount of fossil-fuel generated electricity decreased by 0.5%, while total global electricity production increased by a modest 0.9%.. This decrease was mainly due to the rapid global expansion of renewable electricity sources.
Structural changes towards less carbon-intensive activities in China
Other main factors in the stalling of global CO2 emissions are the structural changes in the economy and energy mix of China. Coal demand in China has been slowly declining since 2014, by 0.8% in 2014 and 1.5% in 2015. Similarly, Chinese production of fossil-fuel-related electricity decreased by 2.7% in 2015, while hydropower production increased by 5%, other renewable electricity by 21% and nuclear energy by 29%. However, oil and natural gas consumption also increased, by about 5%. As a result, China’s CO2 emissions decreased in 2015 by 0.7%, which is the first decrease since 2000 and following three years of ‘low’ annual CO2 emission growth – of 2%, 4.5% and 2%, respectively.