Carbon emissions set for historical fall in 2015

Global emissions of carbon dioxide are expected to stall for a second consecutive year this year, despite widespread economic growth, research from the University of East Anglia and the Global Carbon Project has revealed. 

Last year carbon emissions grew by just 0.6 per cent compared to an average of 2.4 per cent between 2004 and 2013. This week, new research emerged suggesting that 2015 could be another slow year, with emissions levels expected to drop by up to 0.6 per cent.

“What we are now seeing is that emissions appear to have stalled,” said Professor Corinne Le Quéré, Director of the Tyndall Centre at UEA, part of the team involved in the research. “These figures are certainly not typical of the growth trajectory seen since 2000.”

While overall reductions in global carbon emissions are not unheard of, they typically occur during periods of economic crisis – if these predictions prove accurate this would be the first time a drop in emissions has been recorded alongside strong global economic growth.

“It is important to remember that our projection for 2015 is an estimate and there will always be a range of uncertainty,” said Le Quéré. “In this case, the 2015 projection ranges from a global decline in emissions of up to 1.5 per cent – or at the other end of the spectrum, a small rise of 0.5 per cent.”

The research is based on available energy consumption data in China and the US, and on forecast economic growth for the rest of the world, with the projected decline attributed to China’s decreased coal use.

In 2014, the biggest contributors to global emissions were China (27 per cent), the United States (15 per cent), the European Union (10 per cent), and India (7 per cent).

“Whether a slower growth in global emissions will be sustained depends on the use of coal in China and elsewhere, and where new energy will come from. In 2014, more than half of new energy needs in China were met from renewable sources such as hydro, nuclear, wind, and solar power” said Le Quéré.

The renewables sector experienced bumper growth in 2014, with overall global trends revealing much slower growth in petroleum, and record increases in wind and solar capacities. Growth in the sector is currently on track to be even higher in 2015.

“With two years of untypical emissions growth, it looks like the trajectory of global emissions might have changed temporarily,” said Le Quéré. But, she added “it is unlikely that emissions have peaked for good. This is because energy needs for growing economies still rely primarily on coal, and emissions decreases in some industrial countries are still modest at best.

“Today’s news is encouraging, but world leaders at COP21 need to agree on the substantial emission reductions needed to keep warming below two degrees Celsius.”

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