A sliver of hope: it is possible for countries to peak and then decline their emissions year in year out.
There’s some good news on the greenhouse gas front, as researchers led by the Tyndall Centre at the University of East Anglia in the UK published a study that shows carbon dioxide emissions are down in countries with strong energy and climate policies in place.
The research focused on emissions in 18 developed nations, which account for 28 percent of the total global CO2 emissions. It was published Monday in Nature Climate Change.
“New scientific research on climate change tends to ring the alarm bells ever more loudly,” said Dr. Charlie Wilson of UEA. “Our findings add a thin sliver of hope. It is possible for countries to peak and then decline their emissions year in year out.”
The analysis is based on the national CO2 emissions data tied to fossil fuels across the decade between 2005 and 2015, as reported by the International Energy Agency (IEA). The research team, led by Dr. Corinne Le Quéré, identified the group of nations that saw a peak and decline in their CO2 emissions to better understand what was driving the numbers. They also included two nations as a control group.
“Our findings suggest that polices to tackle climate change are helping to decrease emissions in many countries,” said Le Quéré. “This is good news, but this is just the start. There is a long way to go to cut global emissions down to near zero, which is what is needed to stop climate change.”
All of the 18 countries were in Europe with the exception of the United States. Among them were Romania, Croatia, Hungary and Bulgaria, which saw overall declines although all four reflected an uptick in emissions toward the end of the years studied.
So did France, Spain, Ireland and Italy, while Sweden, Denmark, Finland and the UK held to their downward paths. The research team discovered clues as to why countries were seeing CO2 drops, when compared with the averages between 2000 and 2005.
Most of the decrease in CO2 emissions came from an increase in renewable energy sources, at 47 percent on average, but that was coupled with a decrease in overall energy use that accounted for 36 percent of the drop. The latter was tied to improved efficiencies, but not in all cases. Austria, Finland and Sweden saw most of their gains from renewables, while energy use dropped in France, the UK and a host of other nations studied.
However, that decrease in energy use was partly explained by lower economic growth that reduced demand following the global financial crisis. “This comparison suggests that if GDP returns to strong growth in the peak-and-decline group, reductions in energy use may weaken or be reversed unless strong climate and energy policies are implemented,” the authors said.
Moreover, renewable energy itself won’t do the trick without ending the use of fossil fuels, Le Quéré added. The global CO2 emissions decreased by 2.2 percent during the study period, but they were on their way back up after 2015. Developed nations aren’t keeping up with their emissions goals.
“Global carbon dioxide emissions rose in 2017 and 2018, suggesting that the rapid rollout of renewable energy has so far not been sufficient to arrest the growth in fossil fuel use,” said study co-author Dr. Glen Peters of the CICERO Center for International Climate Research in Oslo.
Policies to enforce the reduction in fossil-fuel CO2 are necessary, he added.