Global emissions of climate-warming carbon dioxide did not rise last year for the first time in 40 years without the presence of an economic crisis.
In a sign that efforts to tackle climate change may have been more effective than thought, the International Energy Agency found global emissions of carbon dioxide, the leading greenhouse gas, did not rise in 2014.
“This is a real surprise. We have never seen this before,” said IEA chief economist, Fatih Birol, named recently as the agency’s next executive director.
Energy consumption shifts in China, the world’s biggest carbon polluter, were among the reasons emissions stalled last year, according to the IEA, which monitors energy trends.
There have only been three times in four decades when emissions fell or stopped rising, the agency said: after the oil price shock and US recession in the early 1980s; in 1992 after the collapse of the former Soviet Union; and in 2009 during the global financial crisis.
But last year, the global economy grew 3 per cent, while the amount of CO2 pumped out remained at the 2013 level of 32.3bn tonnes.
China has cut its use of coal, one of the biggest sources of carbon emissions, and installed more hydroelectricity, wind and solar power.
At the same time, electricity consumption, which had been growing at 10 per cent a year, has fallen to about 3-4 per cent as China imposes energy efficiency standards for industry, shuts older factories and shifts away from the heavy manufacturing that has powered its economic growth.
Another reason for the halt in emissions is that wealthy countries in the OECD group of nations that aims to promote sustainable growth have started to “decouple” economic expansion from emissions increases, as they install more renewable energy plants and set stricter standards for everything from car fuel economy to home appliance energy use.
In the past five years, OECD countries’ economies grew nearly 7 per cent while their emissions fell 4 per cent, the IEA has found.