The decrease in the burning of coal in China has resulted in the country's carbon emissions being reduced by 1 percent year-on-year in 2016 while its economy grew at a rapid pace, according to the Paris-based International Energy Agency.
An IEA press statement on Friday stated: “In China, emissions fell by one percent last year, as coal demand declined while the economy expanded by 6.7 percent.”
The IEA has attributed this trend in lowering China's carbon footprint to several reasons. 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 also said the two-thirds of China's electricity demand growth, which was up by 5.4 percent, was supplied by renewables - mostly hydroelectric and wind - as well as nuclear. Five new nuclear reactors were connected to the grid in China, increasing its nuclear power generation by 25 percent.
Fatih Birol, the IEA's executive director, said: “In China, as well as in India, the growth in natural gas is significant, reflecting the effect of air-quality measures to fight pollution as well as energy diversification. The share of gas in the global energy mix is close to a quarter today but in China it is 6 percent and in India just 5 percent, which shows they have a large potential to grow.”
The IEA also said global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions were flat for a third straight year in 2016 even as the global economy grew, signaling a continuing decoupling of emissions and economic activity.
The IEA stated: “This was the 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.”
Global emissions from the energy sector stood at 32.1 gigatons last year, the same as the previous two years, while the global economy grew by 3.1 percent, according to estimates from the IEA.
Carbon dioxide emissions declined in the US 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.
In 2016, renewables supplied more than half the global electricity demand growth, with hydroelectric power accounting for half of that share. The overall increase in the world's nuclear net capacity in 2016 was the highest since 1993, with new reactors coming online in China, the US, South Korea, India, Russia and Pakistan.