Fossil Fuel Emissions Have Stalled: Global Carbon Budget 2016

China’s concerns about air pollution from burning coal is one reason behind the emissions slowdown. China coal image from www.shutterstock.com

Kristy Hamilton 18 Nov 2016, 22:03

The Conversation

For the third year in a row, global carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels and industry have barely grown, while the global economy has continued to grow strongly. This level of decoupling of carbon emissions from global economic growth is unprecedented.

Global CO₂ emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels and industry (including cement production) were 36.3 billion tonnes in 2015, the same as in 2014, and are projected to rise by only 0.2% in 2016 to reach 36.4 billion tonnes. This is a remarkable departure from emissions growth rates of 2.3% for the previous decade, and more than 3% during the 2000s.

Given this good news, we have an extraordinary opportunity to extend the changes that have driven the slowdown and spark the great decline in emissions needed to stabilise the world’s climate.

This result is part of the annual carbon assessment released today by the Global Carbon Project, a global consortium of scientists and think tanks under the umbrella of Future Earth and sponsored by institutions from around the world.

image-20161112-9060-1kb8gyu.png Global CO₂ emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels and industry. Emissions in 2016 (red dot) are based on a projection.

Fossil fuel and industry emissions

The slowdown in emissions growth has been primarily driven by China. After strong growth since the early 2000s, emissions in China have levelled off and may even be declining. This change is largely due to economic factors, such as the end of the construction boom and weaker global demand for steel. Efforts to reduce air pollution and the growth of solar and wind energy have played a role too, albeit a smaller one.

The United States has also played a role in the global emissions slowdown, largely driven by improvements in energy efficiency, the replacement of coal with natural gas and, to a lesser extent, renewable energy.

What makes the three-year trend most remarkable is the fact that the global economy grew at more than 3% per year during this time. Previously, falling emissions were driven by stagnant or shrinking economies, such as during the global financial crisis of 2008.

Developed countries, together, showed a strong declining trend in emissions, cutting them by 1.7% in 2015. This decline was despite emissions growth of 1.4% in the European Union after more than a decade of declining emissions.

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