We often hear warnings about the growth in carbon emissions from the fossil fuel industry; since around the year 2000, there has been a year on year increase of about 2-3 percent, until last year when they stalled. New research has shown that amazingly, this year might see emissions not only falter, but decline.
“So the main result is the projection of fossil fuel emissions for 2015, we found that it will likely stall,” explained Corinne Le Quéré, who coauthored the paper published in Nature Climate Change, to IFLScience. “The exact projection is for a small decrease, though there is a range of uncertainty, obviously, as 2015 is not finished yet.” Unlike in previous years where when the carbon emissions had grown little or stopped it was coupled with a decrease in economic growth, 2015 is notable in the fact that this was not the case. While Le Quéré's projections show that emissions are likely to decrease, the world's economy is still growing.
The emissions data used by Le Quéré and her colleagues were based on the official energy statistics from countries which have been released up until 2011. From then, they had to rely on data from British Petroleum, until finally making a projection for 2015 based on energy data from the first six months of this year. While Le Quéré points out that there is a degree of uncertainty, “we’re relatively confident that the growth this year is much lower than the previous year,” she says. “That’s the second year of low growth – we also had low growth in 2014 – so there seems to be, at least temporarily, a break in the high growth of carbon emissions.”
While emissions had previously been growing by 2-3 percent annually, the stats for last year showed this slowing to around 1.6 percent. Le Quéré’s projection suggests that we could see the emissions drop by 0.6 percent by the end of the year, when compared to the year before. And the main driver? China’s massive decrease in the burning of coal. Due to the economic insecurity within the nation, as it shifts towards a more service-based industry, the amount of coal being burnt in the country dropped significantly, and with it so did global carbon emissions.
Unfortunately, it is unlikely to stay that way for long. “We’re expecting that this is not the peak emissions,” explain Le Quéré. “I think in the very short term, say three to five years, what will happen will depend primarily on China’s recovery – how fast they recover, and how much. But if you look just a little bit beyond three years, then how much the emissions will grow again depends a lot on how much emerging economies, such as India and Indonesia, succeed to diversifying or getting their energy from other means, and how much the rich countries decrease their emissions as well.”