Worldwide emissions of heat-trapping carbon dioxide have flattened out in the past three years, research shows, raising hopes that the world is nearing a turning point in the fight against climate change.
However, the authors of the study cautioned it was unclear whether the slowdown in CO2 emissions, mainly caused by declining coal use in China, was a permanent trend or a temporary blip.
“It is far too early to proclaim we have reached a peak,” said co-author Glen Peters, a senior researcher at the Centre for International Climate and Environmental Research in Oslo.
The findings were issued at a United Nations talks on climate change underway in Marrakesh, Morocco.
The study, published in the journal Earth System Science Data, said global CO2 emissions from fossil fuels and industry were projected to grow by just 0.2 per cent this year.
That would mean emissions have levelled off at about 36 billion metric tons in the past three years, even though the world economy has expanded, suggesting the historical bonds between economic gains and emissions growth may have been severed.
“This could be the turning point we have hoped for,” said David Ray, a professor of carbon management at the University of Edinburgh, who was not involved with the study.
The authors of the study attributed the slowdown mainly to a decrease in Chinese coal consumption since 2012. Coal is a major source of CO2 emissions.
Mr Peters said it was unclear whether the Chinese slowdown was due to a restructuring of the Chinese economy or a sign of economic instability.
“Nevertheless, the unexpected reductions in Chinese emissions give hope that the world’s biggest emitter can deliver much more ambitious emission reductions,” he said.
However, even if Chinese emissions have stabilised, emissions in India and other developing countries could push global emissions higher again. India’s emissions rose 5 per cent in 2015, the study said.
Other researchers not affiliated with the study stressed that it was not enough for global emissions to stabilise, saying they needed to drop toward zero for the world to meet the goals of the Paris deal.
The agreement calls for limiting warming to below 2 degrees Celsius compared with pre-industrial times.
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