Emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) from fossil fuels, the main driver of man-made climate change, are set to decline this year for the first time in a period of global economic growth, said a study today.
The “surprising” findings were published as 195 nations entered the final phase of UN talks in Paris for an accord to roll back heat-trapping carbon emissions, blamed for dangerous climate change.
Thanks mainly to changes in China, the worldwide growth in emissions from fossil fuels-derived energy flattened in 2014 and is set to drop slightly — by about 0.6 percent – this year, said the study in the journal Nature Climate Change.
The decline will come even though the global economy grew this year, by an expected 3.1 percent, following expansion of 3.4 percent in 2014, the authors noted.
“Unlike past periods with little or no emissions growth, global gross domestic product (GDP) grew substantially in both years,” they wrote.
Previous periods of decline were temporary and have occurred during economic slowdowns, notably in 2009 after the global financial crisis.
Decoupling economic growth from emissions generated by oil, coal and gas is a key goal in the bid to tackle global warming.
Carbon-curbing strategies focus on improving energy efficiency from traditional fossil fuels and on shifting to low- or zero-carbon sources such as wind, solar, hydro, geothermal or nuclear.
The study was conducted by 70 scientists, led by Corinne Le Quere of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Research at the University of East Anglia in England.
A key contributor to projected future emissions is India, the study showed. More than 300 million Indians still do not yet have access to electricity.
“For global CO2 emissions to peak quickly, part of India’s new energy needs must come from low-carbon technologies,” the researchers wrote.
India has pledged — contingent on financial aid from rich countries — to generate 40 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030.
Analysts who were not involved in the research hailed its signficance.
“The trend of rapid global emissions growth has been broken,” said Michael Grubb at University College London.
“This keeps 2C in play,” he added.
UN member nations have vowed to cap global warming to a maximum of two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-Industrial Revolution levels.
However, the study cautioned that 2015 was unlikely to be the emissions “peak year” followed by a period of long-term decline.