Global emissions flatline for third consecutive year

A new report has today (14 November) revealed that global carbon emissions growth stalled for the third year in a row, but concerns remain that reduction efforts are inadequate to meet the global warming target of "well below 2C".

The Global Carbon Budget 2016 report published by the University of East Anglia (UEA) found that emissions and economic growth decoupled last year, with carbon levels flatlining despite a 3% growth in global GDP.

Negative growth rates from the world’s largest emitters, US and China, contributed significantly to the break in emissions rise, which aligns with the government pledges made at the Paris Agreement last year. However, the report suggests that current trends fall short of the reductions needed to keep global average temperature rises well below 2C.

UEA director of the Tyndall Centre professor Corinne Le Quéré said: “This third year of almost no growth in emissions is unprecedented at a time of strong economic growth. It is possible that the trajectory of global emissions has permanently deviated from the long-term growth trend.”

“The break in emissions rise is a great help for tackling climate change but it is not enough. Global emissions now need to decrease rapidly, not just stop growing. If climate negotiators in Marrakech can leverage ambitions for further cuts in emissions, we could be making a serious start to addressing climate change.”

Despite the stagnation of global emissions, the paper states the annual growth rate of atmospheric CO2 concentration reached a record high last year and remains on course to increase in 2016. The rise is attributed mainly to the lower land sink during the El Nino event.

Fair share

The report arrives as ministers and delegates enter the second week of discussions at the COP22 climate change conference in Marrakech.

The Paris Agreement’s ambitious temperature limit of 1.5C hinges on the ability of governments to take immediate action in the next four years to speed up the pace of reducing emissions, according to a multi-sector alliance of environmental groups, development NGOs and faith groups.

In a follow up to a 2015 report which revealed that climate pledges made by developed countries are less than their ‘fair share’, the 2016 Civil Society update finds that only 30-44% of the mitigation needed in 2020 to achieve the 1.5C limit has been pledged.

The report prescribes a list of recommendations, aimed chiefly at the ongoing talks in Marrakech. Among the suggestions is a proposal for wealthy countries to sharply accelerate their domestic shifts to low-carbon economies, while at the same time intensifying cooperation with developing countries to define and drive towards a just future.

G20 governments must take action now to phase out fossil-fuel production subsidies, the report states, and terminate public support for fossil exploration. Moreover, governments are urged to increase the national targets to reduce emissions that they submitted before Paris.

Eyes on Uncle Sam

On the current trends, the world in 2030 will be between 11 to 14 gigatonnes above Paris-compatible pathways. This sense of urgency has guided governments and businesses to accelerate immediate efforts and deliver ambitious action at COP22.

The low-carbon agenda will require global leadership from the US, the world’s second biggest emitter, responsible for around 16% of the greenhouse gases (GHGs) pumped into the world’s atmosphere. The Global Carbon Budget 2016 report found that US emissions fell by 2.6% in 2015. However, these efforts could soon be derailed once President-elect Donald Trump enters the White House.

COP22 organisers have been – publicly at least – playing down the climate impact of the billionaire’s shock presidential win, but some have speculated that it could result in legal short-cuts pulling the US out of the Paris Agreement deal within a year.

George Ogleby

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