Study Reveals Much-Welcomed Good News About Decreased Global Carbon Emissions

This is really fantastic news.

The effects of climate change are here and they are real, though some politicians and decision makers are hesitant to adopt new sustainable technologies due to costs. While advocates of greener living have long touted the economic benefits of replacing outdated fossil fuels with eco-friendly upgrades, the undeniable truth was that higher global emissions were linked to economic growth. 

A team of researchers with the Global Carbon Project and Stanford University have now shown that 2015 is the first year that carbon emissions dropped while the economy grew. The study was published in the journal Nature Climate Change and measured the level of emissions of the United States, the European Union, China, India, and the rest of the world, relative to 2011 emissions.

"In 2014, global CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels grew by just 0.6 percent," lead author Rob Jackson said in a news release. "This year we expect total emissions to flatten or drop slightly, despite strong growth in gross domestic product worldwide."

Globally, 2015 emissions were reduced by 0.6 percent, matching 2013 levels. While emissions in the United States and the European Union dropped this year, the real reason global carbon output is down is because of China's sweeping cuts in coal use. Additionally, China invested $80 billion into renewable sources of energy in 2014. 

As these countries represent over half of the globe's total carbon emissions, it's a welcome sign that all posted decreases.

"Whether a slower growth in emissions will be sustained depends on the use of coal in China and elsewhere, and where new sources of energy will come from," co-author Pep Canadell explained in the release. "In 2014, more than half of new energy needs in China were met from non-fossil fuel sources, such as hydro, nuclear, wind and solar power."

However, not every country reduced emissions; levels rose in India and in the rest of the world this year. 

Getting countries to pull together to set strict limits about carbon emissions and move away from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy more suited to life in the 21st century is the focus of the meeting of the United Nations Framework on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of Parties (COP21) meeting currently ongoing in Paris, France. Though the desire is there, it will take a great deal of time to wean away from fossil fuels entirely. 

"Reaching zero emissions will require long-term commitments from countries attending the climate meeting in Paris this week and beyond," Jackson concluded.

Of course, there are a few things to consider. 2015 isn't quite over yet, so the values projected for this study could vary from actual carbon output for the year. While it is encouraging that the carbon emissions appear to have fallen, it will be several more years before this announcement is put into true perspective. Whether this is a temporary blip or the start of a long-lasting trend remains to be seen and it is too early to say one way or another.

Additionally, this slight dip also shouldn't provide a false sense of security or progress. There is still plenty of work to do in terms of cutting emissions, and we must all be cognizant of our individual choices to making longterm, sustainable changes for our planet.

Cover image via: Shutterstock

(H/T: Science News)