Declining carbon emissions in the United States and China contributed to global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions staying flat for a third straight year in 2016, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).
This occurred while the global economy grew, the IEA says, signalling a continuing decoupling of emissions and economic activity.
It's a result of growing renewable power generation, switches from coal to natural gas, improvements in energy efficiency, as well as structural changes in the global economy, the IEA says.
"These three years of flat emissions in a growing global economy signal an emerging trend and that is certainly a cause for optimism, even if it is too soon to say that global emissions have definitely peaked," IEA executive director Fatih Birol said in a statement.
"They are also a sign that market dynamics and technological improvements matter. This is especially true in the United States, where abundant shale gas supplies have become a cheap power source."
Global emissions from the energy sector stood at 32.1 gigatonnes last year, the same as the previous two years, while the global economy grew 3.1 percent, according to estimates from the IEA.
“Carbon dioxide emissions declined in the United States and China, the world's two-largest energy users and emitters, and were stable in Europe, offsetting increases in most of the rest of the world,” the IEA says.
“The biggest drop came from the United States, where carbon dioxide emissions fell 3 percent, or 160 million tonnes, while the economy grew by 1.6 percent. The decline was driven by a surge in shale gas supplies and more attractive renewable power that displaced coal. Emissions in the United States last year were at their lowest level since 1992, a period during which the economy grew by 80 percent.”
With the appropriate policies, and large amounts of shale reserves, natural gas production in the United States could keep growing strongly in the years to come, the IEA says.
“This could have three main consequences: it could boost domestic manufacturing, supply more competitive gas to Asia through to LNG exports, and provide alternative gas supplies to Europe.”