The world’s once-surging greenhouse gas emissions, blamed for global warming, may have gone into decline. Figures to be published this week will show that global emissions neared a plateau last year and could fall this year — even as the world economy is growing.
Scientists will say this week that man-made emissions “nearly stalled” at 37bn tonnes of CO2 last year — and are on track to stabilise or drop slightly this year.
The new figures, which will be formally published tomorrow, come at a crucial time, with politicians from 195 countries attending the UN climate talks in Paris. Their aim is to cut emissions enough to limit global warming to below 2C by 2100.
Sir Brian Hoskins, who chairs the Grantham Institute for Climate Change at Imperial College London and is also a member of the government’s committee on climate change, welcomed the figures.
“The importance of this is that the earlier we hit peak emissions, then the less CO2 that will have accumulated in the air and the easier it is to stay below 2C of warming. If we peak later, say in 2025, then the cuts we have to make will be much greater and it is uncertain if we could actually do it.”
The significance of the figures, produced by The Global Carbon Project (GCP), is that they show, for the first time in the modern era, that greenhouse gas emissions could be falling even as the world economy is growing. Global economic growth is projected at 3.3% for 2015 by the International Monetary Fund.
For the past three decades emissions have largely tracked the global economy, typically rising at about 2-3% a year. Only in 2008-09, when the banking crisis pushed the world into recession, was there a dip in emissions.
Last year, however, emissions stalled at 0.6% and this year they are projected to show a small decline — even though energy demand has kept on rising, at 1-2% a year. […]
Scientists said such claims must be treated with care, partly because one or two years’ data was not enough to confirm a trend and because they were based on complex statistics derived by adding up the gas, oil and coal burnt by each country. China was recently forced to revise its own figures when it found it had “lost” 600m tonnes of coal burnt in industries other than the power sector. When burnt this would generate roughly 1.8bn tonnes of CO2 — three to four times the UK’s total emissions.
The GCP research, to be published by Nature, will make clear that controlling future consumption of coal in China is crucial.
However, between them, China and India plan 1,617 new coal-fired power plants by 2030. This could reverse the apparent gains — unless clean-burn technology is deployed and alternative renewable energy generation is expanded.