Devastation after Cyclone Pam hit Vanuatu. The President of Vanuatu said climate change was partly to blame for the destruction. Photo by: Graham Crumb/Imagicity.com/Creative Commons 3.0.
Global carbon emission plateaued last year, according to International Energy Agency, even as the world’s economy grew three percent. This is the first time carbon emissions have stalled in the absence of an economic collapse. The news provides tentative hope that the world may finally tackling climate change ahead of much-anticipated climate talks in Paris.
“This is a real surprise. We have never seen this before,” said IEA’s chief economist, Fatih Birol. “There could not be better news for Paris.”
According to the IEA’s, global emissions of carbon dioxide in 2014 were 32.2 billion tonnes, the same number as 2013. Prior to this, every year has seen carbon dioxide emissions rise globally, unless interrupted by external events, such as the financial crisis of 2008 or the collapse of the Soviet Union. Experts say the new data further proves that carbon emissions can be decoupled from economic growth.
The IEA said much of the reason for the plateau is due to a slowdown in the breakneck speed of China’s economy, as well as the country pushing aggressively to install renewable energy and improve energy efficiency. China’s economic growth has led to an environmental crisis in the country, with dangerous air pollution, water scarcity, and biodiversity loss. Globally, China has become the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide.
Last year, China and the U.S. announced a partnership to tackle climate change. China announced it would make sure its emissions peaked by 2030 at the latest, while the U.S. pledged to cut emissions 26-28 percent by 2025, based on 2005 levels. Towards that goal, U.S. President Obama announced today that he was directing the government to slash emission by 40 percent by the end of the decade, based on 2008 levels.
Still, if governments are to make good on their pledge to keep temperatures from rising more than two degrees Celsius, emissions worldwide will have to do more than flatline, they will have to fall hard and fast.
“The latest data on emissions are indeed encouraging, but this is no time for complacency, and certainly not the time to use this positive news as an excuse to stall further action,” said Maria van der Hoeven, the executive director of the IEA.