The global economy grew strongly last year without increasing greenhouse gas emissions, suggesting that government regulations, carbon markets and existing technologies are starting to bite in the battle against climate change.
In a special report to help policy makers in the run-up to a major climate conference in Paris later this year, the International Energy Agency said the past year marks the first time that it has seen a decoupling of energy use and economic growth since being created as the energy watchdog for developed countries in the 1970s.
Pledges already put forward for the Paris conference, including by the U.S., European Union and China, could hold temperature increases to 2.6 degrees Celsius. That’s significantly less of an overshoot than the 3.6-degree long-term gain in the IEA’s main scenario issued in November. The United Nations is trying to hold an increase in temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100.
The IEA outlook that’s being presented Monday shows what would happen under the national pledges already set out for Paris, which at the time the report was written in May accounted for a third of global emissions. Under that outlook, the IEA sees the world economy growing 88 percent by 2030 with carbon emissions gaining just 8 percent.
The institution is pushing for policy makers to arrest gains in global emissions by 2020, bringing them down in the years thereafter. That’s the path scientists have identified as compatible with manageable temperature increases.
Halting new coal-fired power plants and doubling investment in renewable energy to $400 billion a year by 2030 are among the steps governments should take to curb the gases damaging the atmosphere, the agency said. It expects renewables to become the leading source of electricity by 2030, overtaking natural gas and coal.
“The challenge is stern, but a credible vision of the long-term decarbonisation of the sector is available,” the report said. “The world must quickly learn to live within its means if this generation is to pass it on to the next with a clear conscience.”
Already, countries are using energy more efficiently and polluting less. The amount of energy required to produce economic growth dropped 2.3 percent last year, more than double the average rate over the past decade, the IEA estimated.
That shift is due to limits on carbon emissions in areas such as the European Union and efforts by countries such as China and India to squeeze more power from energy supplies. In the U.S., a shift away from coal and toward natural gas is lowering the amount of carbon used per unit of GDP.
The IEA said governments must deepen their ambitions on reducing energy use and slashing pollution to halt temperature increases.
It recommended rules that mandate more efficiency in buildings and cars as well as a phase-out of new coal-fired power plants. It reiterated the value of the Group of 20 nations goal to phase-out fossil fuel subsidies by 2030 and said oil producers should work to cut methane emissions from drilling.
“These measures have profound implications for the global energy mix, putting a brake on growth in oil and coal use within the next five years and boosting renewables,” the IEA said.