Global carbon emissions near peak as use of clean-energy technology accelerates, says report

Advanced economies saw record fall in CO2 emissions even as their GDP grew – dropping to a 50-year low, new analysis by International Energy Agency finds

The world may be close to peak levels of carbon emissions, according to a new analysis by the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Without clean-energy options, the global increase in CO2 emissions in the past five years would have been three times larger, it concludes.

Its analysis of energy trends shows global emissions increased by 410 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent – 1.1 per cent – in 2023, compared with a rise of 490 million tonnes the year before – taking them to a record level of 37.4 billion tonnes.

The findings published on Friday in the IEA’s annual update on energy-related emissions show they rose less strongly in 2023 than the year before, even as energy demand accelerated – with continued expansion of solar PV, wind, nuclear power and EVs helping the world avoid greater use of fossil fuels.


An exceptional shortfall in hydropower due to extreme droughts – in China, the United States and elsewhere – resulted in more than 40 per cent of the emissions rise in 2023, as countries turned largely to fossil-fuel alternatives to plug the gap.

Advanced economies, however, saw a record fall in their CO2 emissions in 2023 even as their GDP grew. Their emissions dropped to a 50-year low, while coal demand fell back to levels not seen since the early 1900s.

Decline in advanced economies’ emissions was driven by strong renewables deployment, coal-to-gas switching, energy efficiency improvements “and softer industrial production”.

“The clean-energy transition has undergone a series of stress tests in the last five years – and it has demonstrated its resilience,” said IEA director Fatih Birol. “A pandemic, an energy crisis and geopolitical instability all had the potential to derail efforts to build cleaner and more secure energy systems. Instead, we’ve seen the opposite in many economies.”

The transition was continuing apace and reining in emissions – even with global energy demand growing more strongly in 2023, he said.

“Commitments made by nearly 200 countries at Cop28 in December show what the world needs to do to put emissions on a downward trajectory. Most importantly, we need far greater efforts to enable emerging and developing economies to ramp up clean-energy investment,” Mr Birol said.

Deployment of wind and solar PV in electricity systems since 2019 has been sufficient to avoid an amount of annual coal consumption equivalent to that of India and Indonesia’s electricity sectors combined – and to dent annual natural gas demand by an amount equivalent to Russia’s prewar natural gas exports to the European Union.

Growing numbers of EVs, accounting for one in five new car sales globally in 2023, also played a significant role in keeping oil demand from rising above pre-pandemic levels.

The IEA shows clean-energy deployment remains overly concentrated in advanced economies and China, which accounted for 90 per cent of new solar PV and wind power plants globally and 95 per cent of sales of EVs in 2023.

  • See our new project Common Ground, Evolving Islands: Ireland & Britain
  • Sign up for push alerts and have the best news, analysis and comment delivered directly to your phone
  • Find The Irish Times on WhatsApp and stay up to date
  • Our In The News podcast is now published daily – Find the latest episode here
Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times