The amount of carbon dioxide being pumped into the atmosphere stalled in 2016. This is the third year in a row that the quantity of the gas being released globally did not increase, giving hope that the world may have reached peak emissions.
The data comes from the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (NEAA), which tracks the levels of all the major greenhouse gases being emitted globally. The recent finding that there has been no increase in the amount of carbon dioxide being released is promising news and suggests that there is at least some progress being made in the fight against climate change. But in terms of other heat-trapping gases like methane, there is still much to be done.
“These results are a welcome indication that we are nearing the peak in global annual emissions of greenhouse gases,” Professor Lord Nicholas Stern, from the London School of Economics, told The Guardian.
“To realise the goals of the Paris agreement and hold the increase in global average temperature to well below 2°C [3.6°F], we must reach peak emissions as soon as possible and then achieve a rapid decline soon afterwards,” he continued.
The research shows how all of the world's top carbon emitters, apart from India, experienced a drop or plateau in the amount of carbon dioxide they added to the atmosphere in 2016. This has largely been attributed to a decline in the amount of coal being burnt, and a shift to “cleaner” natural gas and renewables.
The world’s largest emitter, China, saw its emissions fall by 0.3 percent, as it has significantly cut its coal use. In the US, emissions fell by 2 percent, while in Russia there was a 2.1 percent decline, in Japan a 1.3 percent fall, and the European Union saw its emissions flat line. India, on the other hand, saw its carbon output increase by a fairly hefty 4.7 percent, and there were also increases in other developing nations such as Indonesia.
But while emissions have stalled worldwide, carbon dioxide is only one of the greenhouse gases being released into the atmosphere. The data show that the emissions of other gases such as methane, which account for a fairly significant 28 percent of all greenhouse gases, have risen by 1 percent, mainly due to an increase in the demand for beef.
The leveling off of carbon dioxide is obviously a good sign, but it means that we are still pumping the gas into the atmosphere, and it isn’t going anywhere. The longer that the global emissions stagnate, the higher the chance that we have reached peak emissions, a crucial stage if we want to start cutting them significantly.