According to a new report produced annually by the Netherlands Environment Assessment Agency and the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre, global emissions of carbon dioxide may be showing the first signs of a “permanent slowdown” in the rate of increase.
According to the report, emissions in 2012 increased at less than half the average over the past decade.
Key factors included the shift to shale gas for energy in the US while China increased its use of hydropower by 23%.
However, the use of cheap coal continues to be an issue, with UK consumption up by almost a quarter.
The report finds that emissions of carbon dioxide reached a new record in 2012 of 34.5 billion tonnes.
But the rate of increase in CO2 was 1.4%, despite the global economy growing by 3.5%.
Global emissions of carbon dioxide may be showing the first signs of a permanent slowdown in the rate of increase
This decoupling of emissions from economic growth is said to be down to the use of less fossil fuels, more renewable energy and increased energy savings.
The main emitters, accounting for 55% of the global total, were China, the US and the EU. All three saw changes that were described as “remarkable” by the report’s authors.
Emissions from China increased by 3% but this was a significant slowdown compared to annual increases of around 10% over the past decade.
There were two important factors in reducing China’s CO2. The first was the ending of a large economic stimulus package. As a result electricity and energy prices increased at half the rate of GDP.
China also achieved exceptional growth in the use of hydropower for the generation of electricity, increasing capacity and output by 23% in 2012. This alone had the effect of curbing the country’s emissions by 1.5%.
In the US, the shale revolution continues to make waves. Overall emissions were down by 4% in the year mainly because of a continuing shift from coal to gas in the generation of electricity. Shale is now responsible for one third of US gas production and almost one quarter of total oil production.
The other major decline came in the EU where economic recession in the 27 nation bloc saw emissions decline by 1.3%. This was down to a decrease in energy consumption of oil and gas, with a 4% decline in road transport.
Renewable energy also continued its upward trend, at accelerating speed. It took 15 years for the renewable global share to increase 0.5% to 1.1% – but it took only six years for it to double again, to 2.4% in 2012.
Looking ahead, the report suggests that if the push for shale continues in the US, if China sticks to its published plans and if renewables continue to grow – particularly in Europe – global emissions might slow down permanently.
European drivers will save €3,800 over the lifetime of their cars if the EU imposes strict new CO2 standards on manufacturers, according to a recent study.
It says if CO2 emissions from the average car were limited to 95 g per km, fuel use would be cut by a quarter.
The innovations to the vehicle would add about €1,000 to the price of the average car in 2020.
But that extra cost would be offset in less than three years through fuel savings of around €400 per year.
The joint report from consultancies Cambridge Econometrics and Ricardo-AEA says that once all EU cars and vans meet the standard, Europe’s vehicle fleet will be €35 billion cheaper to run each year.
The report is timed to coincide with the first of a series of votes in the European Parliament on car standards.
The 95 g limit is proposed by the Commission. It argues that strict standards are essential to sustain the competitiveness of Europe’s car makers and help the EU meet its targets of reducing transport CO2 emissions 60% by 2050.
The technology is available: cars like the Ford Focus ECOnetic are already achieving the proposed 2020 standard.
The plans may be contentious in the European Parliament, though, with some German MEPs fearing their impact on manufacturers building bigger, heavier cars.
Monday’s report was commissioned by a group of organizations which believe that Europe’s car makers need to ratchet up efficiency to compete with US manufacturers facing President Barack Obama’s demand of 93 g/km in 2025 – a demanding target for US car makers starting from a low base.
The new report estimates that increased spending on vehicle technology will create 350,000-450,000 net additional jobs if the 95 g limit is imposed in Europe. This figure will doubtless be contested.
European drivers will save €3,800 over the lifetime of their cars if the EU imposes strict new CO2 standards on manufacturers
The study was funded by a group including Nissan, the European Association of Automotive Suppliers, GE, the union body IndustriAll and the European Climate Foundation. It focuses only on traditional-engine cars.Improvements are likely to come from many innovations, including building cars from aluminium – much lighter than steel – and installing universal stop-start technology which turns off the engine at traffic lights.
Volkswagen has already committed itself to the 95 g target.
In the run-up to the Geneva Motor Show, Volkswagen’s Martin Winterkorn said the firm intended to become the world’s most environmentally sustainable car maker: “This is a Herculean task calling for the best efforts of all our 40,000 developers. We can do it.”
The European car makers’ association ACEA told me the rules would harm some manufacturers.
A spokesman warned: “Price is the number-one factor motivating a customer’s purchasing decision. In a sector where margins are narrow and consumers have a wide range of choice, even a slight relative price rise can make a manufacturer’s range uncompetitive.”
The authors of Monday’s study point out that this argument underlines the need for new standards to ensure a level playing field for all car makers.
But ACEA continued: “The fact that a car may be cheaper to run once on the road is not relevant if the consumer cannot afford the new technology and instead opts for a used car, with higher emissions – or for keeping his old vehicle, again with higher emissions.”
The campaign group Transport and Environment says this is an old argument from an industry which has been forced by previous standards to improve efficiency and reduce fuel bills. The group argued that the EU needed long-range standards to 2025 to drive further innovation.
It also warns that manufacturers are becoming adept at manipulating tests to make cars appear more efficient than they really are.
The Commission will need to ensure that the move towards diesel vehicles to improve efficiency does not lead to increased local air pollution from particulates.
Rio+20, the UN sustainable development summit in Brazil, has ended with world leaders adopting a political declaration hammered out a few days previously.
Environment and development charities say the Rio+20 agreement is too weak to tackle social and environmental crises.
Gro Harlem Brundtland, author of a major UN sustainable development report 25 years ago, said corporate power was one reason for lack of progress.
Nations will spend three years drawing up sustainable development goals.
They will also work towards better protection for marine life on the high seas.
But moves to eliminate subsidies on fossil fuels – recommended in a number of authoritative reports as likely to boost economies and curb CO2 emissions – came to naught.
Plans to enshrine the right of poor people to have clean water, adequate food and modern forms of energy also foundered or were seriously weakened during the six days of preparatory talks.
And many governments were bitter that text enshrining women’s reproductive rights was removed from the declaration over opposition from the Vatican backed by Russia and nations from the Middle East and Latin America.
Rio+20, the UN sustainable development summit in Brazil, has ended with world leaders adopting a political declaration hammered out a few days previously
The UN had billed the summit as a “once in a generation chance” to turn the global economy onto a sustainable track.
“It absolutely did not do that,” said Barbara Stocking, chief executive of Oxfam GB.
“We had the leaders of the world here, but they really did not take decisions that will take us forward,” she said.
“It was a real lack of action that is very worrying, because we know how difficult the situation is in much of the world in terms of environment and poverty, and they did not show the leadership we needed them to bring.”
The president of the most impoverished country in the western hemisphere, Haiti’s President Michel Martelly, said the summit could have delivered more.
“I feel like these poor countries, these countries that are always being hit by catastrophe – things have not changed much,” he said.
“So on this summit I will say that much more effort needs to be done so we can correctly and precisely come out with resolutions that will have an impact on the lives of people being affected.”
Developing countries had argued that they needed financial assistance in order to meet the costs of switching onto a green development path.
But with the US in an election year and the EU deep in eurozone mire, any mention of specific sums was blocked.
As a consequence, developing countries refused to let the declaration endorse green economics as the definitive sustainable development path.
Prof. Jeffrey Sachs, the Columbia University economist and special adviser to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, said support was needed.
“Those of us who look at this day in, day out know that many poor countries need that kind of help,” he said.
“And it does not do any good to cite large ambitious promises many years out, and then behind the scenes to say <<we’re not going to talk about how they’re going to be fulfilled>>.”
But Lisa Jackson, Administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and deputy head of the US delegation here, said the US was fully behind the “green economy” – and that the summit could help deliver the vision.
“The negotiated document, which is really the first time we have a multilateral document that talks about the green economy that has broad-based support – that is a big push,” she said.
“But probably more important are the connections that are being made between businesses large and small, civil society, academia and of course governments at the national and sub-national level – all those things are pushing the green economy forwards.”
The need to put the world on a sustainable track, and the perils of not doing so, were outlined most influentially in a 1987 commission chaired by Gro Harlem Brundtland, then Prime Minister of Norway.
“Obviously when you look back 25 years now, less than one would have expected has happened – that’s clear – but you can’t think you can turn the world round in 25 years,” she said.
She said there were “complex reasons” why governments had been unable to take the vision further – including the power of corporations.
“I think [the allegation] is justified – it’s not the whole truth but it certainly is a big part of it,” she said.
“In our political system, corporations, businesses and people who have economic power influence political decision-makers – that’s a fact, and so it’s part of the analysis.”
The next key date on the sustainable development journey is 2015.
The sustainable development goals should be decided and declared by then; also, the UN climate convention will have what some, with trepidation, are calling its “next Copenhagen” – the summit that should in theory usher in a new global agreement with some legal force to tackle global warming.
A new study shows that during medieval times the whole of our planet heated up without the aid of human CO2 emissions.
Earth then cooled down naturally and there was even a “mini ice age”.
A team of scientists led by geochemist Zunli Lu from Syracuse University in New York state, has found that contrary to the “consensus”, the “Medieval Warm Period” approximately 500 to 1,000 years ago wasn’t just confined to Europe.
In fact, it extended all the way down to Antarctica – which means that the Earth has already experience global warming without the aid of human CO2 emissions.
At present the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) argues that the Medieval Warm Period was confined to Europe – therefore that the warming we’re experiencing now is a man-made phenomenon.
However, Prof. Zunli Lu has shown that this isn’t true – and the evidence lies with a rare mineral called ikaite, which forms in cold waters.
“Ikaite is an icy version of limestone,” said Prof. Zunli Lu.
“The crystals are only stable under cold conditions and actually melt at room temperature.”
It turns out the water that holds the crystal structure together – called the hydration water – traps information about temperatures present when the crystals formed.
This finding by Prof. Zunli Lu’s research team establishes, for the first time, ikaite as a reliable way to study past climate conditions.
The scientists studied ikaite crystals from sediment cores drilled off the coast of Antarctica. The sediment layers were deposited over 2,000 years.
The Medieval Warm Period extended all the way down to Antarctica, which means that the Earth has already experience global warming without the aid of human CO2 emissions
The scientists were particularly interested in crystals found in layers deposited during the “Little Ice Age”, approximately 300 to 500 years ago, and during the Medieval Warm Period before it.
Both climate events have been documented in Northern Europe, but studies have been inconclusive as to whether the conditions in Northern Europe extended to Antarctica.
Prof. Zunli Lu’s team found that in fact, they did.
They were able to deduce this by studying the amount of heavy oxygen isotopes found in the crystals.
During cool periods there are lots, during warm periods there aren’t.
“We showed that the Northern European climate events influenced climate conditions in Antarctica,” Prof. Zunli Lu says.
“More importantly, we are extremely happy to figure out how to get a climate signal out of this peculiar mineral. A new proxy is always welcome when studying past climate changes.”
The research was recently published online in the journal Earth And Planetary Science Letters and will appear in print on April 1.