Oct 5, 2023 - Energy & Environment

Global carbon emissions from power sector may have hit key turning point

Year-on-year change in global power sector CO2 emissions
Data: Ember; Graphic: Rahul Mukherjee/Axios

Global carbon emissions from power production essentially plateaued in the first half of 2023.

Driving the news: New analysis from the non-governmental organization Ember says 2023 may mark a turning point, with the sector's emissions having risen just 0.2% during H123. "[T]he world is nearing the point of falling power sector emissions," the NGO wrote.

Why it matters: Globally, the power sector is the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, while clocking in at No. 2 in the U.S. Domestically, it accounts for over 3o% of U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions, according to Energy Information Administration data.

  • Ember's research gives faint hopes that warming temperatures may not add materially to an already dour outlook for carbon emissions, with power output likely to rise.

The big picture: Electricity emissions would have fallen so far this year absent the big, drought-spurred hydropower decline centered in China. That boosted fossil output to compensate, Ember said.

  • And it's still possible 2023 will be the first year with "structurally" falling emissions as renewable sources grow.
  • "Before this point, power sector emissions have been structurally rising, and there have only ever been falls during global economic shocks such as the 2008 financial crisis or the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic," Ember reports.

Key stats: Global wind and solar generation rose 12% in the first half of this year, while fossil generation climbed just 0.1%. Hydro power fell 8.5%.

Yes, but: Any pathway to Paris Agreement goals envisions steep carbon dioxide cuts from electricity, the world's largest emissions source, not just a plateau.

  • "Reaching 'peak' fossil emissions in the power sector is a crucial milestone in the global transition to a clean, electrified economy. But the most critical part is what happens next," the report states.

The bottom line: Squint just right, and it's a glass-half-full moment.

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