IEA: 2022 saw energy-related emissions increase, yet on a much lower scale than previously feared

New research from the IEA finds that the increase in emissions from energy-related activities was much lower than feared in 2022; however, the agency has warned that emissions remain on an unsustainable path in terms of their growth.
March 16, 2023

Emissions grew in 2022, but on a much lower scale than feared

A new report from the IEA (International Energy Agency) entitled CO2 Emissions in 2022 found that energy-related emissions grew by just under 1% last year. The growth in emissions equated to 321 Mt, reaching a new annual high of 36.8 Gt. However, this growth of 0.9% year-on-year was far lower than the 6% rise seen in 2021, where economic (and productivity) rebound from the covid-19 pandemic saw emissions significantly jump[i]. The IEA highlights that 2022 emissions from energy combustion increased by 423 Mt, whilst emissions from industrial processes decreased by 102 Mt; it notes that the energy crisis saw many countries switch gas usage to coal instead, particularly in Asian nations with emissions from the fuel rising by 1.6% globally last year. It goes on to warn that the current trajectory for emissions growth each year is ultimately unsustainable. Fatih Birol, Executive Director at the IEA, said:

“We still see emissions growing from fossil fuels, hindering efforts to meet the world’s climate targets. International and national fossil fuel companies are making record revenues and need to take their share of responsibility, in line with their public pledges to meet climate goals. It’s critical that they review their strategies to make sure they’re aligned with meaningful emissions reductions.”[ii]

There was some positivity, however, with the IEA noting that the previous trend towards a decoupling of emissions from global GDP becoming re-established, whereby global GDP grew by 3.2%, meaning emissions growth was far below this. Improvements in the CO2 intensity of energy use were slightly slower than the past decade’s average, however.

Emissions increase limited by gains in clean energy, notably from solar & wind

Whilst emissions rose over the past year, these figures were notably dampened by the introduction and increased use of clean energy technologies, including wind and solar. With 2021 seeing the outbreak of war with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, energy price rises saw nations rush to replace Russian fuel imports (notably gas and oil) with other sources. Further, soaring gas prices meant alternatives to this fuel were increasingly sought after. Particularly in the EU, which has in the past relied heavily upon Russian gas imports, alternatives were brought in, and for the first time, electricity generation from wind and solar PV combined exceeded that of gas or nuclear[iii]. In fact, there are notable regional variations in emissions increases; whilst the EU’s emissions fell by 2.5%, the US recorded a 0.8% increase, and Asia (when excluding China) saw emissions increase by 4.2%.

The IEA singles out ‘impressive growth’ in solar PV and wind generation as being responsible for preventing around 465 Mt CO2 in power sector emissions. They also note that other clean energy technologies, such as other renewables, electric vehicles, and heat pumps, helped prevent an additional 85 Mt CO2 last year. Significantly, without this increased growth in clean energy deployment, the annual increase in energy-related emissions would have been almost triple.

IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol noted: “The impacts of the energy crisis didn’t result in the major increase in global emissions that was initially feared – and this is thanks to the outstanding growth of renewables, EVs, heat pumps and energy-efficient technologies. Without clean energy, the growth in CO2 emissions would have been nearly three times as high.”[iv]

As we highlighted in our recent blog, renewable energy has done notably well recently, and future forecasts are promising, with the IEA predicting that renewables and nuclear will account for more than 90% of additional electricity generation globally over the next three years[v]. However, in recent years both solar and wind energy production has repeatedly outperformed IEA forecasts, and the agency has been criticised in the past for failing to note their growth potential.

Figure 1: The rapid rise of solar continues to outpace IEA outlooks

Source: Twitter


[i] CO2 Emissions in 2022 – Analysis - IEA

[ii] Global CO2 emissions rose less than initially feared in 2022 as clean energy growth offset much of the impact of greater coal and oil use - News - IEA

[iii] CO2 Emissions in 2022 – Analysis - IEA

[iv] Global CO2 emissions rose less than initially feared in 2022 as clean energy growth offset much of the impact of greater coal and oil use - News - IEA

[v] IEA predicts a bright future for clean energy, with almost all additional electricity generation over the next three years to be sourced from renewable or nuclear methods | Zero Carbon Academy

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Lauren Foye
Head of Reports

Lauren has extensive experience as an analyst and market researcher in the digital technology and travel sectors. She has a background in researching and forecasting emerging technologies, with a particular passion for the Videogames and eSports industries. She joined the Critical Information Group as Head of Reports and Market Research at GRC World Forums, and leads the content and data research team at the Zero Carbon Academy. “What drew me to the academy is the opportunity to add content and commentary around sustainability across a wealth of industries and sectors.”

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