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Global emissions could be heading for ‘permanent slowdown’

Last year’s rise in carbon dioxide less than half average annual increase in previous decade say researchers

The European emissions trading scheme is the main hurdle in maintaining the slowdown. (Pic: rwkvisual)

The European emissions trading scheme is the main hurdle in maintaining the slowdown. (Pic: rwkvisual)

By Nilima Choudhury

The increase in global CO2 emissions has slowed down this year, thanks to an increased shift towards renewables and energy efficiency.

Actual global emissions of carbon dioxide reached a new record of 34.5 billion tonnes in 2012, but new report shows the rate of increase in CO2 emissions was 1.1% in 2012.

That’s less than half the average annual increase of 2.9% seen over the last decade.

The researchers, based at PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency and the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre, said the small 1.1% increase in emissions last year could be the first sign of a more permanent decline in emissions.

They credit this to “remarkable” falls in China, the EU and USA, collectively responsible for more than 50% of global emissions.

Hurdles

Speaking to RTCC, Pieter Boot, head of climate and energy at PBL, said there were three obstacles to making the slowdown permanent with the main one being the European Union which has a 11% share of global emissions.

The report said if the European economic recession continues it could “hinder restoring the functioning of the carbon market of the EU ETS (Emissions Trading System) and thus the ability to set and meet more ambitious emission reduction targets.”

The European Union saw its emissions fall by 1.6%, due to a decrease in energy consumption (oil and gas) and a reduction in road freight transport.

Renewable energy increased at an accelerating speed in Europe. From 1992 it took 15 years for the share to double from 0.5% to 1.1%, but only six more years to do so again, to 2.4% by 2012.

The second is China, said Boot. The country is currently responsible for 29% share of emissions, although this decreased by 3.6% in 2012, twice as fast as in 2011.

Boot said: “I think [the Chinese] will really try hard to achieve this because of the feeling of the population with regard to clean air.”

This 2012 increase in fuel consumption was mainly driven by the increase in building construction and expansion of infrastructure, as indicated by the growth in cement and steel production.

But China is also ramping up renewable energy generation, which is expected to make up half of China’s new power capacity through 2013. Emissions are anticipated to peak in 2027 as the share of coal in the country’s energy portfolio falls from 67% in 2012 to 44% in 2030.

According to the report, these efforts puts the country back on track to meet its 2015 target according to China’s 12th Five Year Plan, with an almost 17% cumulative reduction in energy intensity per unit of GDP, compared to 2010.

Thirdly, Boot said the US needs to continue its shift from coal to gas and renewable energy to contribute to the continued fall in CO2 emissions.

In 2012, its CO2 emissions decreased by 4%, mainly because of a further fuel shift from coal to gas in the power sector, due to the low gas price. In recent years, the United States expanded shale gas fracturing and has now become the largest natural gas producer in the world.

These figures are important now that the climate change talks in Poland in a couple of weeks are fast approaching.

World consensus

But Boot is not hopeful that any global agreement will be reached at the forthcoming UN summit in Warsaw to help this continued slowdown.

“In order to know what to expect from these pledges you must have a reviewing procedure and that’s something that they are discussing very hard because countries like China of course don’t like so much being reviewed by other [countries]. They want to do everything themselves.

“This reviewing procedure [is] important because then you really can prepare [for the] Paris meeting.”

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  • ShaleGasExpert

    Imagine if Europe promoted shale gas as the US has and as China is planning to. Then EU emissions are inconsequential.
    Also imagine how much lower EU emissions would be if both Germany and the UK didn’t use more coal instead of gas.

  • christian_roselund

    Given the current uncertainty about fugitive emissions from fracking, alleged emissions “savings” from moving to natural gas are little more than speculation. If they turn out to be mere paper emissions, then we’re screwed.

    The real way to reduce GHG emissions is renewable energy, energy efficiency and reduced power use. The Anglo-American emphasis on shale gas is re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.