According to a report from the International Energy Agency (IEA), global emissions from the world’s energy sector were just over 32bln tonnes in 2016, the same figure as the previous two years, despite the global economy growing 3.1%. Although it’s too soon to be certain, they say there are encouraging signs of growth in the renewable energy sector as well as a shift from coal to natural gas. The biggest surprise was in the US, with carbon dioxide emissions falling 3%, meaning that US emissions are at their lowest level since 1992, whilst the economy has grown over 80%. As Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director stated ‘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’ adding ‘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’.
In 2016 the US and China lead the way to the ‘Sun Rush’, the installation of photovoltaic capacity (solar). In both countries, also double the amount of solar was added in 2016 against 2015 figures. By way of example of the explosive growth of the industry, globally, as of the end of 2016 there was 305GW of solar power capacity, in 2010 this figure was around 50GW, and at the turn of the century virtually nothing. In Europe, the UK lead the way with a 29% increase in capacity, followed by Germany increasing by 21% and France just over 8%.
Of course this shift towards renewables came before the election of Donald Trump. During his election campaign he promised to turn back former President Barack Obama's policies on renewable energy, and last week he made good on that promise. Hailing what he described as an end to the ‘the war on coal’ eliminating numerous measures in an effort to not only boost domestic coal production, but also oil and gas. ‘That is what this is all about: bringing back our jobs, bringing back our dreams and making America wealthy again’ Trump declared as he signed the decree at the aptly named Environmental Protection Agency headquarters.
Whilst Trump, and indeed the Republican party blames Obama’s environmental policies for the loss of jobs in the coal sector, data from the government itself shows that the industry has been losing jobs for decades under presidents from both sides of the house. The Energy Department breakdown released in January believes that the coal mining industry in the US now accounts for fewer than 75,000 jobs against renewables energy jobs, solar, wind and biofuels accounting for over 650,000 jobs.
California Gov. Jerry Brown was very blunt on his opinion of Trump’s efforts stating ‘Gutting the Clean Power Plan is a colossal mistake and defies science itself. Erasing climate change may take place in Donald Trump's mind, but nowhere else’. California, along with New York and several other states have said they will oppose any efforts by Trump and his administration to withdraw the Clean Power Plan. Californian state law already requires California to generate 50% of its electricity from renewable energies by 2030. Indeed Los Angeles, one of the last places in the state to rely on coal powered power stations, is planning to stop importing energy from out of state coal stations by 2025.