Global Carbon Emissions Drop As Electricity Producers Turn Away From Coal-Based Power Plants

Lukas SchulzeGetty Images

According to a new report on the world’s electricity generation, global carbon emissions fell by two percent in 2019, reported The Guardian. The drop signifies the largest in 30 years and is indicative of a multi-country effort to reduce dependence on coal-fired power plants, with the United States and Europe taking the lead in turning to cleaner electricity sources.

Coal generation in the two regions has been cut in half since 2007, with Europe seeing a reduction of almost 50 percent and the U.S. a collapse of 16 percent.

The report was created by climate company Ember, which stated that — while progress is being made to reduce coal generation — it is still not enough to limit climate change. The report warned that the reduction in carbon emissions from less coal-fired power plant usage could be due to a variety of one-off factors, including milder winters across the globe.

Lead author Dave Jones emphasized that in order to see a dramatic reduction in coal generation, one that would have an impact on climate change, governments need to accelerate the switch to cleaner energy sources.

“To switch from coal into gas is just swapping one fossil fuel for another. The cheapest and quickest way to end coal generation is through a rapid rollout of wind and solar. But without concerted policymaker efforts to boost wind and solar, we will fail to meet climate targets. China’s growth in coal, and to some extent gas, is alarming but the answers are all there.”

Steam and exhaust rise from the power plant of STEAG on a cold winter day on January 6, 2017 in Oberhausen, Germany.
Featured image credit: Lukas SchulzeGetty Images

As coal usage in Europe and the U.S. has fallen, China’s reliance on coal power plants has risen, comprising half the world’s coal generation — a first in history.

European countries are currently making the switch to wind and solar energy, which made up roughly one-fifth of the energy produced on the continent last year. The United States has increased gas usage as it turns away from coal-based generation, with wind and solar energy only comprising 11 percent of total energy production. In China, renewable energy sources made up eight percent of the country’s electricity in 2019, while in India, they comprised nine percent of energy produced.

At the end of 2019, renewable wind and solar power rose by 15 percent, making up just eight percent of the world’s energy. In order for the world to meet the Paris climate goals, it would be necessary to see a compound growth rate of 15 percent for wind and solar generation every year. The report points out that this growth would require a “colossal effort” from the world’s countries.