Global Emissions Might Have Started to Decrease in 2015

By Alissa Walker on at

There might not be any better news as 196 countries head into a second week of climate negotiations in Paris. A Stanford-led study claims that we might have hit global peak emissions in 2014. But that’s not a call for complacency: There is still much work to be done.

The study by the Global Carbon Project, which is out today in Nature Climate Change, predicts that annual global carbon dioxide emissions may have dropped slightly in 2015 compared to the years before. Over the past few years, emissions have increased 2 to 3 per cent each year, but not so for 2015, according to Rob Jackson, who led the team at Stanford University:

“In 2014, global CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels grew by just 0.6 per cent. This year we expect total emissions to flatten or drop slightly, despite strong growth in gross domestic product worldwide.”

This economic correlation is the most important part of the whole projection because usually any reduction in emissions are accompanied by a dip in productivity. But economic production hasn’t decreased globally—in fact, GDP increased by 3 per cent.

What changed in 2015? China’s big shift away from coal-fired power, report co-author Corinne Le Quéré of the University of East Anglia says in the Stanford release: “After a decade of rapid growth, China’s emissions rate slowed to 1.2 per cent in 2014 and is expected to drop by 3.9 per cent in 2015.”

The researchers presented their findings today at the UN’s COP21 summit, but urged that this does not mean our climate problems are solved. If anything, the findings highlight the need for action to amplify some of the downward trends in emissions. It’s also important to note that the study is just a projection at the moment, the data won’t be finalised until 2016. But this is very good news indeed—and will help the summit to end on a hopeful note.

[Read the release at Stanford or see the study data at Earth System Science Data]

AP Photo/Ng Han Guan