Global carbon emissions slower than 2018, linked to India’s economic slowdown: Study


Global carbon emissions has grown more slowly in 2019 compared to last year, according to a study which suggests this could be due to several factors, including slower growth in coal use in China and India compared to recent years.

The study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, said the total emissions of the greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide (CO2), from human activities — such as combustion of fossil fuels and land use change — are set to reach almost 43 billion tonnes in 2019.

The researchers, including those from the University of Exeter in the UK, said emissions in India are projected to rise by 1.8 per cent in 2019, considerably lower than in 2018, likely due to weaker economic growth.


India’s economy, the researchers said, has slowed significantly through 2019, affecting consumption of coal and oil, and production of cement.

According to the researchers, a strong monsoon affected coal production and consumption, with heavy rainfall leading to both flooded coal mines and high hydropower generation.

While this is lower than last year, the study noted that this year’s emissions may likely be 4 per cent higher than in 2015 — the year of the UN Paris Climate Agreement.

In particular, the researchers said natural gas has seen the fastest fossil fuel emissions growth in 2019 globally — with a projected increase of 2.6 per cent.

They added that oil used in transport has also driven up emissions, with an expected increase of 0.9 per cent (+0.3 to +1.6 per cent) this year.

The study noted that emissions from coal burning may decrease by 0.9 per cent (-2.0 to +0.2 per cent) compared to 2018.

“A failure to promptly tackle the driving factors behind continued emissions growth will limit the world’s ability to shift to a pathway consistent with 1.5 degree Celsius or well below 2 degree Celsius of global warming, the aim of the Paris Climate Agreement,” said study lead author Pierre Friedlingstein from the University of Exeter.

“The science is clear, CO2 emissions need to decrease to net zero globally to stop further significant warming of the planet,” Friedlingstein said.

According to the researchers, the slower growth in 2019 is aligned with trends of the past decade when global fossil carbon dioxide emissions grew on average 0.9 per cent a year since 2010, slower than the 3 per cent a year of the 2000’s.

However, they said China’s emissions continue to grow in 2019 and are projected to increase by 2.6 per cent (+0.7 to +4.4 per cent).

The researchers said coal use in China has seen a modest rise this year is due to low growth in electricity demand, and no growth in coal-fired power generation.

They added the emissions were pushed up somewhat by stronger growth in production of cement, steel and other energy-intensive products.

The study noted that China accounted for 50 per cent of global coal use.

It said a global peak in coal use is linked to the future use of coal in China, which in turn depends on the kind of structural changes, energy and climate policy the communist country draws up.

With regards to the US, the researchers said emissions could fall by 1.7 per cent (-3.7 per cent to +0.3 per cent) in 2019, with a projected decrease of 10 per cent in coal-based emissions.

In the US, the study noted that coal is being displaced by gas, and to a lesser extent by solar and wind power, with electricity demand being low in 2019, and a projected decline in oil use slightly in 2019.

But oil use could still be over 1 per cent higher than in 2017, the researchers added.

In the European Union (EU), the researchers projected that emissions may decline by 1.7 per cent (-3.4 to +0.1 per cent) in 2019, with a projected decrease of 10 per cent in coal-based emissions.

They also added from preliminary estimates that emissions from deforestation using fire, and other land-use change for 2019 reached 6 billion tonnes of CO2.

They said this is about 0.8 billion tonnes more levels of CO2 than seen in 2018.

The study said this increase is partly due to elevated fire activity in the Amazon, in line with data from the Brazilian Space Agency showing that deforestation in the Brazilian part of the Amazon has steadily increased since 2008, reaching its highest level in 2019.

The fire activity was also unusually high in deforestation zones of Indonesia, the researchers noted.

According to the study, concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere continue to grow — projected to reach 410 parts per million averaged over the year.

The scientists said atmospheric CO2 concentration in 2019 is 47 per cent above pre-industrial levels.

Current climate and energy policies adopted by different countries are too weak to reverse trends in global emissions, they cautioned.

“Policies have been successful to varying degrees in deploying low-carbon technologies, such as solar, wind and electric vehicles. But these often add to existing demand for energy rather than displacing technologies that emit CO2, particularly in countries where energy demand is growing,” said study co-author Corinne Le Quere from the University of East Anglia in the UK.

“We need stronger policies that are targeted at phasing out the use of fossil fuels,” Le Quere said.

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