NEW research shows the international effort to slash carbon emissions is finally seeing some reward.
As world leaders thrash out climate targets in Paris, a team of scientists behind the Global Carbon Project this morning published their latest annual carbon budget, which concludes the world’s emissions are projected to fall by 0.6 per cent in 2015.
This figure may look insignificant, but when considering there has been an average annual increase of 2.4 per cent in the past decade as well as a dramatic swelling of 90 per cent since 1970, this drop is a momentous break in the rapid growth seen in recent years.
The promising 2015 forecast comes on the back of a strong slowing in global emissions from fossil fuels in 2014, rising by just 0.6 per cent.
CSIRO scientist Dr Pep Canadell, who is executive director of the Global Carbon Project, said this was the first time that a stalling in emissions growth, as seen in the last two years, had occurred alongside a strong global economy.
“(In the past) every single slowdown or plateau in emissions has coincided with a global or regional financial crisis,” Dr Canadell said.
But that’s not to say we can all give ourselves a big pat on the back. Because the cause for the current fall is in fact China’s massive decline in carbon emissions stemming from a large shift away from coal consumption, Dr Canadell said, together with stunted economic growth.
“Let’s just make it very clear, the reason we have this global slowdown is not because of the globe, it’s because of China. China did something remarkable,” he said of the world’s largest emitter.
In the past decade, Chinese carbon emissions rose on average by 6.7 per year-on-year. This slowed to 1.2 per cent in 2014, and this year emissions are expected to extraordinarily fall by nearly four per cent.
Dr Canadell said this would be a wake-up call for Australia’s mining industry, which has relied on coal exports to China to fuel the country’s energy needs.
Researchers estimate that more than half of China’s growth in energy consumption is now coming from non-fossil fuel sources, with more uptake in hydro and nuclear power.
“This is not a random event. China’s government has made very clear they need to peak their coal consumption and get rid of the dirtiest coal because of pollution,” Dr Canadell said.
He cautioned that it was too soon to say if the planet’s carbon emissions had turned a corner as result of the projected 0.6 global decrease, believing more climbs were likely in the future unless all countries pledged to take stronger action against climate change.
He warned that current levels of emissions, whether stable or seeing small declines, were still on track to trigger a 2C global temperature hike from pre-industrial levels within 30 years. This research comes as the final week of the United Nations COP 21 climate summit in Paris gathers pace, with hopes of locking in a legally binding, universal agreement to keep global warming below 2C.
Steady declines are being seen around the world — including Australia — but not fast enough. Dr Canadell said all nations needed to be more ambitious and ramp up their emissions targets.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has previously stated that to keep warming under the 2C threshold, emissions in 2050 would need to be 40 to 70 per cent lower than in 2010.
Australia emitted over one per cent, or 0.38 billion tonnes, of the world’s total carbon emissions from fossil fuels in 2014, making it the 14th largest contributor. Together, the top four polluters accounted for almost 60 per cent of the world’s emissions. These included China, which emitted 9.7 billion tonnes, followed by the USA (5.6 billion), the European Union (3.4 billion) and India (2.6 billion).
The USA is expected to see a small decline in emissions in 2015 after rises in the two previous years, while the European Union should see another fall — a result that has been consistent for two decades.
Dr Canadell said India’s carbon future was of concern, stressing that they would be a critical recipient of any collective financial allocations made at COP 21 in Paris to help emerging economies stem their greenhouse gas emissions.
“They’re responsible for seven per cent of CO2 emissions but this level is the same as where China was in 1990,” he said.
“(They have an) incredible volume potential for growth and it’s simply our next frontier for trying to bring global CO2 emissions to (turn around).”