In 2014, for the first time in 40 years, global CO2 emissions have stalled, but...
Good news, bad newsNew data from the International Energy Agency (IEA) is showing that last year, for the first time in four decades, global CO2 emissions have "stalled," remaining at about 32 billion tonnes, the same number as in 2013. "This is both a very welcome surprise and a significant one," said IEA Chief Economist Fatih Birol. "It provides much-needed momentum to negotiators preparing to forge a global climate deal in Paris in December: for the first time, greenhouse gas emissions are decoupling from economic growth."
But while that's encouraging, it shouldn't lead the world to lose focus in its fight against global warming. The reason is simple: While the rate has stopped increasing, it doesn't mean that the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere will stop increasing. The best way to illustrate this is with the carbon bathtub analogy:
© Nigel Holmes. Sources: John Sterman, MIT; David Archer, University of Chicago; Global Carbon Project
So far, every year we've been opening the carbon faucet wider, so that the bathtub has been filling up faster. There's a leak at the bottom, so some is going out the drain (natural carbon sinks in the oceans and in forests, etc), but we've been pouring carbon in the tub faster than it leaks for a while now.
All that the IEA news about 2014 means is that last year, we didn't open the faucet more, it just keeps filling the tub at the same rate as in 2013.
Said like that, it doesn't sound so great, uh? But it's still a good sign. I'd much rather see the rate stabilize, and eventually start to go down than to keep going up as it has been for decades. Hopefully it's an early sign that we are decarbonizing our civilization, and turning more to clean sources of energy.
Prof Corinne Le Quere, of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia, said: "An important factor could be that China's coal consumption fell in 2014, driven by their efforts to fight pollution, use energy more efficiently and deploy renewables.
"Efforts to reduce emissions elsewhere will have played a role, but there are also more random factors such as the weather and the relative price of oil, coal and gas." (source)
UC San Diego/via