A new report researchers at the University of East Anglia has found that global emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) remained almost flat for the third year in a row in 2016 at around 36.4 billion tonnes, even though many countries' economies grew during the year.
Annual output of CO2 rose by 0.7% in 2014, was flat in 2015 and is expected to grow by just 0.2% in 2016. It is still too early to say whether CO2 emissions have peaked. Emissions grew by around 3% per year from 2000 to 2009, but in 2010, there was a slowdown as the impact of the global recession slowed industrial expansion.
For the last couple of years, global economic growth has exceeded 3% per year, but carbon emissions have remained almost stable. This is really important, as it signals that growth can be achieved without increasing CO2 emissions. The stability that has been achieved still falls short of what will be needed to meet the pledges made at last year's Paris climate talks to keep global temperature rises to 'well below 2C' above pre-industrial levels by the end of this century. But it shows that we can make a positive difference.
A possible threat to the continuation of near static CO2 emissions could come early next year, when US President-elect Donald Trump comes into office. During his election campaign, he said that climate change was a 'Chinese hoax' and has pledged to take the US out of the Paris agreement and increase the use of coal for electricity generation. This pledge was removed from his official website on 10 November. As the world's second biggest CO2 emitter, responsible for 16% of all greenhouse gas emissions, it's absolutely essential that the US stays on board with the Paris agreement.
The US (along with China and India) has already ratified the Paris agreement and is therefore legally obliged to keep global warming below 2C above pre-industrial levels. In 2015, US emissions of CO2 fell by 2.6% as a result of more gas and oil being burned in place of coal. The European Union saw emissions rise by 1.4% last year. The UK has yet to ratify the Paris agreement, though Prime Minister Theresa May has committed to doing this before the end of the year.
Photo by Ian Britton.