October 31, 2013 10:50 pm

‘Permanent slowdown’ seen in carbon dioxide emissions

The rise in global emissions of carbon dioxide last year was less than half the average annual increase of the past decade, suggesting a “permanent slowdown” may lie ahead, researchers say.

Emissions of carbon dioxide, the chief man-made greenhouse gas blamed for climate change, rose by 1.4 per cent to a record of 34.5bn tonnes in 2012, according to a study published on Thursday.

But this rise was well below the 2.9 per cent average annual increase seen in the past 10 years, largely thanks to what the study said were “remarkable” falls in China, the US and the EU, together responsible for 55 per cent of global emissions.

In China, the biggest emitter, carbon dioxide emissions rose by 3 per cent last year, compared with annual increases of 10 per cent over the past decade.

This occurred as an economic stimulus package aimed at avoiding a slowdown in the global recession came to an end, and as the country used more renewable power and boosted energy efficiency, said the study produced by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency and the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre.

The shale gas boom in the US helped the second-biggest emitter reduce carbon pollution increases by driving down natural gas prices, which prompted a shift away from the use of coal for electricity generation. Coal produces more emissions when burnt than gas.

The growth of renewable energy sources such as wind power helped push down emissions growth in the US, as well as in the EU, where the trend was amplified by continued economic weakness in the region.

The smaller increase in overall emissions “may be the first sign of a more permanent slowdown in the increase in global carbon dioxide emissions and ultimately of declining global emissions”, said the authors of the study,

But this would depend on whether each of the three emitters were able to keep expanding the use of renewable energy and natural gas or, in the case of the EU, restoring the effectiveness of its flailing carbon market.

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