Carbon Emissions Stall for First Time in Decades

The International Energy Agency (IEA) reports that global energy sector emissions of carbon dioxide stalled in 2014. This is the first plateau in emissions of the greenhouse gas in four decades excepting periods of economic downturn.

coolingtower2Emissions of carbon dioxide worldwide were 32.3 billion tons last year, unchanged from 2013. The IEA attributes the halt in emissions growth to changing patterns of energy consumption. Last year, China increased its power generation from renewable sources—hydropower, solar and wind—and decreased its coal use. “This gives me even more hope that humankind will be able to work together to combat climate change, the most important threat facing us today,” said IEA Chief Economist Fatih Birol.

The preliminary data suggests that efforts to mitigate climate change may be having a more pronounced effect on greenhouse gas emissions than previously thought. “This is both a very welcome surprise and a significant one,” said Birol. “For the first time, greenhouse gas emissions are decoupling from economic growth.”

The IEA has been collecting data on carbon dioxide emissions for 40 years, and in that time there were only three occasions when emissions fell or stagnated compared to the previous year. All of those were associated with international economic weakness; however in 2014, the global economy expanded by 3%.

IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven welcomes these results, but cautions against taking our foot off the pedal of emission regulation. “The latest data on emissions are indeed encouraging, but this is no time for complacency—and certainly not the time to use this positive news as an excuse to stall further action,” she said.

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