Emissions in China fell by 1 percent as coal demand declined despite its economy growing by 6.7 percent. According to the IEA, 2016 emissions in the United States were at their lowest level since 1992, nearly a quarter century during which the economy grew by 80%.
China used more renewables, nuclear and gas in power generation and spurred a switch to gas from coal in the industrial and building sectors.
A dramatically increased share of renewables and higher energy efficiency have the potential to create benefits of up to $10 trillion annually by 2050, compared to estimated incremental system costs of decarbonization of $1.8 trillion annually, according to a new report by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and the International Energy Agency (IEA).
The declines are also a sign that market dynamics and tech advancements are having a impact, and are helping separate economic growth from energy emissions, according to Birol.
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This was particularly true in the U.S., where demand fell by 11%, and electricity generation from natural gas was higher than from coal for the first time, while there was also a significant coal-to-gas switch in the UK.
The biggest drop was seen in the United States, where carbon dioxide emissions fell 3 per cent, while the economy grew 1.6 per cent, following a surge in shale gas supplies and more renewable power that displaced coal. "This is especially true in the United States, where abundant shale gas supplies have become a cheap source of power". The International Renewable Energy Agency report The IRENA report concludes that "early action is critical" and failure to act swiftly will only increase costs later.
The IEA said carbon dioxide emissions dipped in both 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. Two-thirds of the country's electricity demand growth was served by renewables, mostly large-hydro and wind.
"Stronger price signals and carbon pricing can help provide a level playing field when complemented by other measures, and the report emphasises the importance of considering needs of those without energy access", IRENA and IEA said. It now needs to be maintained if we are ever going to deal with climate change. Emissions need to fall to 9.5 gigatonnes by 2050 to limit global warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures, IRENA said.