The move from coal to natural gas coupled with growth in renewable power generation, energy efficiency improvements and other changes have stalled increases in global carbon dioxide emissions, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

The IEA reported in March that global emissions from the energy sector in 2016 remained at 32.1 gigatonnes, the same level as in 2014 and 2015. The emissions level held steady even as the world’s global economy grew, according to the IEA.

The U.S. saw its energy-related CO2 emissions fall the farthest, down 3%, last year as the energy industry boosted shale gas output. “More attractive renewable power” was also part of the decline. The IEA noted the fall in emissions came while the economy grew by 1.6%.

Similar progress was made in China, the world’s most populated country. Energy-related CO2 emissions in China fell by 1%, while its economy grew by 6.7%. “There were several reasons for this trend: an increasing share of renewables, nuclear and natural gas in the power sector, but also a switch from coal to gas in the industrial and buildings sector that was driven in large part by government policies combatting air pollution,” the IEA said.

Just as in China and the U.S., coal demand fell and natural gas demand rose in the EU by 10% and 8%, respectively. “The United Kingdom saw a significant coal-to-gas switching in the power sector, thanks to cheaper gas and a carbon price floor,” the IEA said. However, the move didn’t lead to a significant drop in CO2 emissions, which the IEA said were stable.

global, co2, carbon dioxide, emissions, IEA, International Energy Agency, Shell, NRG, Hilcorp, JX Nippon, Aker Solutions, Chevron

“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,” Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director, said in a news release. “They are also a sign that market dynamics and technological improvements matter.”

It also good to hear some companies are trying to reduce emissions further, including by pursuing carbon capture projects.

Some like NRG Energy, JX Nippon Oil & Gas Exploration and Hilcorp Energy are capturing CO2 from power plants and using it for EOR at oil fields. Others like Shell and Chevron have taken on carbon capture and storage (CCS) projects. Shell’s Quest CCS project in Canada aims to annually capture more than 1 million tonnes of CO2 emissions from the company’s oil sands operations and permanently store the emissions underground.

Across the world in Western Australia, hopes are for Chevron’s CCS project to lower greenhouse gas emissions from its Gorgon project by about 40%. The project involves storing CO2 more than 2 km below Barrow Island in the Dupuy Formation, the company said on its website.

The cement industry is also getting into the mix. One of the latest efforts is underway in Brevik, Norway, where cement supplier Norcem and chemicals company Yara are trying to secure funding for a carbon capture plant at their facilities.

Earlier this week Aker Solutions announced it won contracts for carbon capture concept studies at Yara’s ammonia plant on Herøya and Norcem's cement production facility.

“The study for Norcem will design a carbon capture plant that’s integrated with the cement factory, including a process to turn the CO2 into liquid and storage facilities that can be used before shipping,” Aker said in a news release. “The plant will have a capacity of about 400,000 tons of CO2 a year. The Yara study will design and develop a capture plant for the reformer flue gas and will also include liquefaction. Both concept studies are set to be completed in September this year.”

Aker Solutions CEO Luis Araujo said “Perfecting carbon capture will be key to meeting global climate goals.”

Velda Addison can be reached at