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Global emissions climbed in 2017 while US levels dropped for 3rd year: IEA

Global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions climbed 1.4% in 2017 even as U.S. levels declined for the third year in a row, the International Energy Agency said in a March 22 report.

Worldwide energy-related CO2 emissions increased by 460 million tonnes, equivalent to the emissions of 170 million additional cars, to a historic high of 32.5 gigatonnes after remaining unchanged for three years. The 3.7% growth of the global economy, a 2.1% increase in global energy demand, lower fossil fuel prices and slowing energy efficiency growth all contributed to the higher emissions levels, the IEA reported.

The latest findings mark a setback for the parties to the Paris Agreement on climate change, which aims to curb emissions to levels that would limit global warming to 2 degrees C from preindustrial levels.

"The growth in energy-related carbon dioxide emissions in 2017 is a strong warning for global efforts to combat climate change, and demonstrates that current efforts are insufficient to meet the objectives of the Paris Agreement," IEA said. IEA now projects that to meet the goals of the accord, the global power sector would have to increase renewable generation by an average of 700 terawatt hours annually, which is 80% more than the increase registered in 2017.

A few countries, including the U.S., United Kingdom, Mexico and Japan, bucked the global emissions trend and saw declines, IEA said.

U.S. emissions dropped by 0.5%, or 25 million tonnes, to 4,810 million tonnes of carbon emissions, marking the third consecutive year of decline. Declining electricity demand and higher renewables-based electricity generation took over as the main drivers for the decreased emissions. The continued closure of coal-fired plants and increased reliance on natural gas-fired generation had in prior years played the biggest role. In 2017, the share of renewables in U.S. electric generation reached 17% while nuclear generation held steady at 20%.

The U.K.'s emissions dropped by 3.8%, or 15 million tonnes of CO2 emissions, which is the lowest level on record back to 1960. In Mexico, emissions dropped by 4%.

Asian countries accounted for about two-thirds of the global carbon emissions increase in 2017. Critics of U.S. domestic climate change efforts have in the past argued that the problem will not be solved without serious reductions from China and other Asian markets.

The report shows that China's economy grew at 7% in 2017, while its emissions increased by 1.7%, or 150 million tonnes, to 9.1 gigatonnes of CO2. China has continued to deploy renewables and to transition from coal-fired generation to gas-fired generation. Its coal demand peaked in 2013. But energy-related emissions have nevertheless increased due to rising oil and gas consumption.