Science says emissions from fossil fuels are going to fall this year

Heavy smog in Beijing. Li Feng/Getty Images

The rate of growth in carbon emissions is about to dip, breaking the rapid rise of the last decade, and not increase as many had expected.

Global emissions from fossil fuels are forecast to decline by 0.6% this year, according to the Global Carbon Project, part of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Program and Future Earth.

The drop in emissions is a turnaround from more than 2% growth on average during the last decade. It also comes at a time when the world is experiencing economic expansion unlike the previous emissions drop which coincided with the global financial crisis.

“The major contributor to this change has been decreased coal consumption in China,” says Dr Pep Canadell of the CSIRO, the executive director of the carbon project and co-author of the report.

China’s emissions growth slowed to 1.2% last year but 2015 is expected to show a decline of about 4%.

The report says that Australia emitted a bit more than 1% of the world’s total carbon emissions from fossil fuels, emitting 0.38 billion tonnes, making it the 14th largest contributor.

Australia’s per capita emissions remain high but with a strong declining trend over the past 6 years.

The largest emitter was China with 9.7 billion tonnes, followed by USA (5.6), the European Union (3.4) and India (2.6), together accounting for almost 60% of global emissions.

The strongest decline in emissions was in the European Union, averaging 2.4% decrease per year in the past decade, although some of it was achieved by transferring carbon emissions to emerging economies.

The largest uncertainty is China’s future coal use. Stabilisation, or reduction, in China’s coal use might be sustainable since more than half of the growth in the country’s energy consumption came from non-fossil fuel energy sources in 2014 and 2015.

While renewable energy technology will play an important role, the report looks at future emissions pathways which could keep global average temperature increase below 2°C this century.

“Most scenarios exceed the carbon budget for a 2°C warming target in the first half of this century, which then requires up to several billion tonnes of emissions to be removed from the atmosphere each year during the second half of the century,” says Dr Canadell.

The Global Carbon Project 2015 report is published in the journal Earth System Science Data, with two associated papers in the journal Nature Climate Change.

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