Emissions growth slows as economies clean up – research

Fossil fuel use and industries emitted a record 35.3Gt of CO2 in 2013, but slowdown shows economic decoupling

Major economies are getting carbon-intensive (Pic: Flickr/kris krug)

Major economies are getting less carbon-intensive
(Pic: Flickr/kris krug)

By Megan Darby

Global carbon dioxide emissions growth is slowing down as major economies get cleaner, Dutch researchers have found.

While Sunday’s global climate agreement in Lima made only incremental progress to prevent dangerous global warming, economic growth is getting less dependent on polluting activities.

Emissions from fossil fuel use and industrial sources increased to a record 35.3 billion tonnes in 2013, PBL revealed – 2% higher than 2012.

That is a smaller rise than the 3.8% average over the last decade, a slowdown PBL called “remarkable” in a year the global economy grew 3.1%.

PBL stats

It is a mixed picture, with sharper rises of 6.2% in Brazil, 4.4% in India and 4.2% in China, while the European Union’s emissions decreased 1.4%.

US emissions rose 2.5%, reflecting a shift from gas back to coal for power production and higher gas demand for heating.

Overall, the data shows a progressive decoupling of global emissions and economic growth, said PBL, an advisory body to the Netherlands government.

Climate expert Niklas Hohne warned against reading too much into one year’s figures, but agreed there were “some positive movements”.

These were driven by governments, he told RTCC, for example half of countries have some kind of energy efficiency standard for buildings.

BRIEFING: The Lima call for climate action

A separate assessment from six European institutions, including PBL, highlighted the need for more carbon cutting policies.

Emissions targets set by major economies will cut the global warming trajectory 1-1.5C compared to business as usual, it found.

China’s recent pledge to peak emissions around 2030, in particular, is expected to halve its cumulative total.

Yet the results fall short of the 2C warming limit negotiators agreed in 2009 to work towards. Beyond that, scientists say the impacts of climate change will get more extreme and unpredictable.

The “Lima call for climate action” asks countries to publish further carbon cutting plans in early 2015.

These will be reviewed by the UN before the next round of talks, in Paris, where negotiators are due to strike a global climate deal.

There needs to be “a race to the top”, said Hohne, with countries competing to offer the most ambitious plans, for Paris to come up with a strong result.

Detlef van Vuuren, senior researcher at PBL and co-leader of the project, emphasised the relevance of the study to international negotiations.

“Our scenarios show the importance of a near-term peak in all global regions to avoid rapid and expensive emission reductions later,” he said.

The cheapest way to meet the 2C goal includes “a significant contribution” from the developing world, added report coordinator Massimo Tavoni.

“This could create unfair distribution of costs. Compensatory measures could address these.”

That will require some US$100-150 billion a year by 2030 from the international community, the report advised.

Meanwhile, weather data from NOAA showed the first 11 months of 2014 have been the hottest such period on record.

The average surface temperature over land and sea was 0.68C higher than the 20th century average, it calculated.

November was the joint 7th warmest ever, putting the world on course for its highest annual temperature.

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