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Highlight November 2013 - Good news on global CO2 emissions

IES scientists G. Janssens-Maenhout and M. Muntean are co-authors of the ‘Trends in Global CO2 Emissions – 2013 Report’, which reports a first sign of a slowdown in the annual increase in global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in 2012. The report, the latest in an annual series produced jointly by the JRC and the PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, was published on 31 October 2013.

Global emissions of CO2 – the main cause of human-induced global warming – increased by only 1.1% in 2012, less than half the average of 2.7% of annual growth rates since 2000, and significantly lower than the 2011 emissions growth rate of 3%. This is even more remarkable given the fact that it comes at a time when the global economy continued to grow at a rate of 3.5%. These encouraging signs indicate a global shift to less carbon-intensive industry with a fuel shift from coal to gas, increasing use of renewable energy and increased energy savings.

The main emitters in 2012, accounting for 55% of the global total, were China, the US and the European Union. Emissions from China increased by 3%; significantly less than the annual increases of around 10% over the past decade. This could be due to a slowdown in Chinese growth in line with their 12th 5-year plan, and to the exceptional growth in their use of hydropower for generating electricity.

In 2012, consumption of natural gas increased by 2.2% (the United States is currently the world’s largest gas producer), whereas oil products only increased by 0.9%, and coal only by 0.6% (China is still the world’s largest coal consumer) compared to 2011. However, Europe’s coal consumption increased by 3% (with major increases in the United Kingdom, Spain and Germany), which indicates that relatively cheap coal was used to supplement renewable energies and make up for the reduced share of nuclear energy. The increase in the share of renewable energy sources (solar, wind and biofuel) is accelerating: it took 15 years from 1992 for the share to double from 0.5% to 1.1%, but only six more years to do so again, to 2.4% in 2012.

The report suggests that the rate of growth in global emissions could further slow down if (a) China achieves its target of a maximum level of energy consumption by 2015 and its shift to 10% natural gas by 2020; (b) the United States continues to shift towards more gas and renewable energy use; and (c) European Union Member States agree on restoring the effectiveness of the EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) to further reduce actual emissions.

G. Janssens-Maenhout is quoted as saying "It is good news but still not sufficient. We are still having increases every year which are cumulating in the atmosphere over the next decades to an amount with such global warming potential that it endangers the 2 degrees target."

Please note that the figures have been corrected to account for the leap year that fell in 2012. 

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