News about the shocking state of global climate has been rolling in like a tsunami lately. We’ve just sweated through the warmest October on record, but we’re still in the midst of the hottest year. These figures aren’t helping the worsening El Niño, or Greenland’s rapidly melting glacier. It’s no surprise that we are well on track to breach 1°C (1.8°F) of warming above pre-industrial levels, putting us halfway towards the 2°C threshold.
But among all these depressing reports and statistics, there is a fine beacon of light creeping through this dreary tunnel: the increase in carbon dioxide emissions almost paused last year. That’s the first time in 40 years that the planet has witnessed such a plateau in growth in the absence of a major economic crisis, three of which have resulted in similar trends over the same time period. In fact, last year the global economy grew by three percent, making the achievement even more laudable and demonstrating a decoupling of the growth of emissions and that of the economy.
The first decade of the century saw CO2 emissions grow at an alarming annual rate, averaging out at about four percent. But things started to slow down in 2012 when a more modest 0.8 percent rise was recorded. Last year was an improvement on that, with a respectable 0.5 percent increase; one percent lower than the previous year, a newly published report shows. This corroborates a report published earlier this year by the International Energy Agency.
Despite continuing to be the biggest emitter, we can largely thank China for this year’s encouraging figure. A decade ago China was on par with the U.S. in terms of CO2 output, but now the country pumps out twice as much as America. In spite of this surge, China only increased its emissions by 0.9 percent last year, matching that of the U.S. This is mainly attributable to a lack of growth in coal demand married with substantial investments into renewable energy, for which China is actually one of the world leaders.
With the U.K.’s woefully poor commitment to curbing emissions a continuing embarrassment in light of milestone achievements made by neighbors like Denmark, it’s encouraging to see that the EU managed to decrease its CO2 output by 5.4 percent, all the while growing GDP by 1.4 percent with respect to the previous year. Alongside a drop in fossil fuel consumption within the transport sector, a particularly mild winter likely played a large role in this, the study suggests.
As one of the four largest contributors to CO2 emissions, alongside China, the U.S. and India, you wouldn’t be blamed for wondering why this didn’t make a bigger dent. Unfortunately, the substantial rise of 7.8 percent from India effectively nullified the EU’s drop.
As evidence that a global, concerned effort can indeed make an impact, these figures will no doubt be cited at the upcoming COP21 meeting in Paris as a reason to step up the game and work even harder. It is not a time for complacency, and now more than ever the world needs to be united in its pledges to stop our planet from slowly boiling away.