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Global CO2 emissions projected to stall in 2015

Last year global CO2 emissions from fossil fuels and industry grew by just 0.6 per cent – marking a year-on-year slow down. The projection for 2015 reveals a second year of slow growth or even a small decrease in global emissions.

The study is published today in the journal Nature Climate Change, with detailed data made available simultaneously in the journal Earth System Science Data.

The research reveals that emissions could decline by 0.6 per cent this year. While declines in emissions have previously occurred during periods of economic crisis, this would be the first decline during a period of strong global economic growth.

Prof Corinne Le Quéré, Director of the Tyndall Centre at UEA, UK who led the data analysis, said:

“These figures are certainly not typical of the growth trajectory seen since 2000 – where the annual growth in emissions was between 2 and 3 per cent. What we are now seeing is that emissions appear to have stalled, and they could even decline slightly in 2015. But it is important to remember that our projection for 2015 is an estimate and there will always be a range of uncertainty. 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 projection for 2015 is based on available energy consumption data in China and the US, and on forecast economic growth for the rest of the world.

Prof Le Quéré, who is a Future Earth Science Committee member, said:

“The projected decline is largely down to China’s decreased coal use, driven by its economic adjustment. 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.”

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

Prof Robert Jackson of Stanford University, co-chair of GCP, who led the Nature Climate Change Commentary, said:

“We saw slower global growth in petroleum in 2014 and faster growth in renewables. Wind and solar capacities saw record increases in capacity last year and are on track to be even higher in 2015." 

Prof Le Quéré added:

“With two years of untypical emissions growth, it looks like the trajectory of global emissions might have changed temporarily. 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.

Global emissions need to decrease to near zero to achieve climate stabilisation. We are still emitting massive amounts of CO2annually – around 36 billion tonnes from fossil fuels and industry alone. There is a long way to near zero emissions.

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. And despite the slowing of CO2 emissions globally, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has now reached 400 parts per million, its highest level in at least 800,000 years.”

Future Earth Executive Director Paul Shrivastava said,

"This is a milestone in the race to solve the climate challenge. It is important news as world leaders meet in Paris for the climate summit. It is the first real indication that the global economy can begin the path towards decarbonisation. China must be applauded. Its efforts are both Herculean and unexpected.”

‘Reaching Peak Emissions’ is published in Nature Climate Change on December 7, 2015.

‘Global Carbon Budget 2015’ is published in Earth System Science Data.