I’m home after a very, very long week in Paris where I attended the COP21 conference in Paris. The atmosphere there is optimistic, but with just two days worth of negotiations I sometimes get panicked. I don’t want us to live on borrowed time anymore — I want action. So, there are naturally moments when all seems hopeless. Moments that irk with doom and gloom and the prospects of a miserable future. But then you get to hear of good news; events that still lend hope to humanity. You hear of endangered species coming around, you hear of thousands of fearless eco-warriors around the world working tirelessly to save the planet, you hear of creative scientists, artists and entrepreneurs who are on a mission to change the world; and today you get to hear that global greenhouse gas emissions have peaked.
Honestly, I had no hope would write this headline this century let alone on just another Wednesday in 2015. The findings were reported in the journal Nature Climate Change by a group of international researchers who tracked the emissions on a global level. In 2014, fossil fuel and cement production grew by a mere 0.6 percent in 2014, compared with 2.4 percent annual growth for the decade before. The biggest help, however, came from China which is responsible for roughly a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions each year. As the country moved away from coal in favor of more sustainable energy generation means, we’ve seen emissions drop despite more energy was generated. In effect, China has decoupled its economic growth from fossil fuels, like the EU has for many years already. In 2013, emissions from China increased by 3% but this was a significant slowdown compared to annual increases of around 10% over the past decade.
Another huge factor that helped flatline emissions in 2014 was the oil and coal industry. Each took a serious beating. Coal assets have fallen by 95% from a decade ago, and oil is sold at $40/barrel (and it could halve to $20/barrel!!!). As such, new drilling projects have been suspended, a lot of people have been fired and business has slowed down.
“It is difficult to overstate the significance of this development,” said Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University. “What it shows is that we are indeed now turning the corner in transition from a fossil fuel to renewable-driven global economy.”
“Our results are a welcome change from the trajectory of the last 15 years or so,” said Robert Jackson, an environmental scientist at Stanford and lead author on the study. “This is the first time we’ve seen a likely decline in the presence of strong global economic growth.”
Though emissions flatlined in 2014 — the first time in 15 years — these will likely ramp up again in the coming decade. India has 300 million people without electricity and it has the responsibility to help its citizens out of this situation. Expect a heck load of emissions to follow. Keep an eye on Africa, as well.