The International Energy Agency has released data showing that mankind’s carbon emissions did
not increase in 2014.
The surprise announcement marks the first time in 40 years that
emissions have remained stable in the absence of a major global
economic crisis. The total amount of CO2 emitted was 32 gigatonnes
— the same as in 2013.
“This is both a very welcome surprise and a significant one,”
said IEA Chief Economist Fatih Birol. “It provides much-needed
momentum to negotiators preparing to forge a global climate deal in
Paris in December: for the first time, greenhouse gas emissions are
decoupling from economic growth.”
That concept of ‘decoupling’ is a very important one to many
environmental scientists — it means that economic growth is no
longer linked to emissions, suggesting that it may be possible to
increase the former without the latter rising alongside it.
“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 Birol.
What we don’t know yet is whether the flatlining of emissions is
a one-off coincidence or marks the beginning of a larger trend.
It’s worth noting too that these statistics only refer to carbon
dioxide — one of many greenhouse gases, albeit the most important
in terms of mankind’s contribution to climate change.
Analysts have pointed to China’s decreasing use of coal as a
potential factor in the announcement, while countries across Europe
are successfully meeting ambitious renewable energy goals.
Sweden is now producing 52.1 percent of its energy from
renewable sources, for example, beating a 2020 target of 49
percent. Bulgaria, Lithuania and Estonia have also hit their
targets five years early, while Romania and Italy are within half a
percentage point. Britain, however, is languishing at the bottom of
the table, producing just 5.1 percent of its energy from renewable
sources — far short of its unambitious 2020 target of 15
The IEA’s executive director, Maria van der Hoeven, said that
the data was “encouraging” but added that there’s “no time for
complacency — and certainly not the time to use this positive news
as an excuse to stall further action”.
The announcement comes in the wake of warnings that climate change is about to accelerate. An
analysis, based on a combination of data from more than two dozen
climate simulation models from around the world, showed that the
rate at which temperatures are rising in the northern hemisphere
could be 0.25C per decade by 2020 — a level not seen for at least
So even if emissions begin to fall, warming is still expected
accelerate. This is partly due to feedbacks in the climate system
— where, for example, parts of the polar ice caps that were
reflecting sunlight into space melt and can no longer perform that
role. That leads to more heat being absorbed by the ocean, more
melting, and the cycle continues. There are many of these
feedbacks, some positive and some negative, and some better
understood than others. Getting a handle on them is a key part of
If the flatlining of emissions can be sustained, and perhaps
even decreased, then the worst of the IPCC’s climate scenarios may
not be realised. But there’s a long road to walk before that comes
to pass. The first step on that road will be the creation of a new, universal and legally-binding, climate deal in Paris in