Can we manage to grow our global economy without increasing the amount of CO2 we release into the atmosphere? Prior to recent data, the answer to this question was, "Not likely." On the contrary, the International Energy Agency's most recent data is showing that the impossible is indeed possible.
The International Energy Agency has been collecting data on CO2 emissions for 40 years. This agency, also known as the IEA, was founded shortly after the 1973 oil crisis to assist countries around the world in coordinating a collective effort to prevent oil supply disruptions. Another big part of its job is to help with the integration of energy and environmental policies. This is why they have been collecting data and studying trends in CO2 emissions.
Previously, this data showed that CO2 emissions have been on the increase. Throughout the 40 years the IEA has been studying the presence of CO2 in the atmosphere, there have only been three times that these emissions have remained stagnant – the early 1980s, 1992 and 2009 – all periods of an economic downturn. Low productivity means people aren't using as much energy, so to some extent, this is expected.
The good news is, the latest report from the IEA is showing no increase year over year. This may not seem significant, but it most certainly is. The flat period (2014) is the first time in modern history that the world's CO2 emissions aren't on the increase during a period of global economic growth. The impossible was proved possible.
China – setting an example for us all
A lot of this is suspected to do with China's recent commitment to incorporate more renewable resources in their energy generation. In fact, renewable and nuclear energy made up almost 10% of China's energy mix in 2013. It now has the largest renewable energy system in the world.
China is the fasting developing country, which would typically make it a growing threat to our atmosphere. However, China seems to realize that it can't continue relying on brown energy if it's going to steadily increase productivity. In 2013, it invested more in clean energy than all of Europe and is now home to almost 24% of all of the world's renewable energy. On top of that, it's increasing its efforts by committing to ambitious long-term goals to add more renewable resources to their energy mix. In some ways, China is setting an example for the rest of the world.
Thinking toward the future
It's important to note that just because CO2 emissions aren't increasing during this prosperous time doesn't mean that we should give up on adding more renewable resources to the global electricity generation mix. Now that we know that the global economy can grow without CO2 following suit, we should continue in this direction. If we do, who knows? The next IEA report could show a downward trend in a period of prosperity.