Global carbon emissions were nearly flat in 2014, and not because of a shrinking economy.
According to a report from the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency and the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre, greenhouse gas (GHG) output grew only a half a percentage point last year, while the global economy grew by three percent, demonstrating a partial decoupling of global carbon emissions from economic growth.
Since the early 2000s, global emissions have risen between three and four per cent each year in lock-step with a growing economy. Typically, declines in GHG emissions have been tied to a contracting global economy, as occurred during the 2007-08 economic crisis, but 2014 bucked that trend.
There were a variety of factors driving the lower rate of increase. The report found that reduced energy intensity and a smaller appetite for coal in China were driving down the growth of that country’s carbon output. China’s overall emissions grew just 0.9 per cent in 2014, while its economy grew by around 7.5 per cent.
G20 economies grew at a rate of around 3.4 per cent last year. While emissions in the European Union (EU) fell 5.4 per cent due to a warm winter and lower fossil-fuel consumption, US emissions grew around 0.9 per cent, with a 2.4 per cent rate of growth.
In Canada, the relationship between economic growth and emissions has been the subject of political debate.
Former prime minister Stephen Harper claimed his government was the first in Canadian history to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while growing the economy, although that decline only occurred during the economic recession of 2008 and 2009. Emissions have grown again since then, although they have not caught up to pre-2008 levels.
Many point to Ontario’s phase-out of coal-fired power plants and British Columbia’s carbon tax as having contributed to the slower growth of emissions in recent years. However, Canada is expected to miss its own greenhouse gas reduction targets set out during the last major UN climate talks in Copenhagen in 2009. Canada accounts for around two per cent of global emissions.
The Climate Examiner speaks to BC-based Carbon Engineering about the technology, the business and the policies that could make direct air capture, synfuels and carbon sequestration work.