Global carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels did not grow in 2015 and are projected to rise only slightly in 2016, marking three years of almost no growth, according to researchers at the University of East Anglia (UEA) in the U.K. and the Global Carbon Project.
The projected rise of only 0.2% for 2016 marks a clear break from the rapid emissions growth of 2.3% per year in the decade leading up to 2013, with just 0.7% growth seen in 2014.
The new data were published in the journal Earth System Science Data. It shows emissions growth remained below 1% despite gross domestic product growth exceeding 3%.
Decreased use of coal in China is the main reason behind the three-year slowdown, UEA said.
Tyndall Centre director Corinne Le Quere, who led the data analysis at UEA, said, "This third year of almost no growth in emissions is unprecedented at a time of strong economic growth. This is a great help for tackling climate change but it is not enough. Global emissions now need to decrease rapidly, not just stop growing."
China — the biggest emitter of carbon dioxide at 29% — saw emissions decrease by 0.7% in 2015, compared to growth of more than 5% per year the previous decade. A further reduction of 0.5% is projected for 2016, though with large uncertainties.
The U.S., the second largest emitter of carbon dioxide at 15%, also reduced its coal use while increasing its oil and gas consumption and saw emissions decrease 2.6% last year. U.S. emissions are projected to decrease by 1.7% in 2016.
The European Union's 28 member states are the third largest emitter causing 10% of emissions. The EU's carbon dioxide emissions went up 1.4% in 2015, in contrast with longer-term decreases.
India contributed 6.3% of all global carbon dioxide emissions, with their emissions increasing 5.2%, in 2015 continuing a period of strong growth.
Although the break in emissions rise ties in with the pledges by countries to decrease emissions until 2030, it falls short of the reductions needed to limit climate change well below 2°C, UEA said.
"If climate negotiators in Marrakesh (Morocco) can build momentum for further cuts in emissions, we could be making a serious start to addressing climate change," Le Quere said.
The Global Carbon Budget analysis also shows that, despite a lack of growth in emissions, the growth in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration was a record-high in 2015, and could be a record again in 2016 due to weak carbon sinks.
Le Quere added, "Part of the carbon dioxide emissions are absorbed by the ocean and by trees. With temperatures soaring in 2015 and 2016, less carbon dioxide was absorbed by trees because of the hot and dry conditions related to the El Nino event. Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have exceeded 400 parts per million and will continue to rise and cause the planet to warm until emissions are cut down to near zero."
The Global Carbon Project's estimation of global carbon dioxide emissions and their fate in the atmosphere, land and ocean is a major effort by the research community to bring together measurements, statistics on human activities, with analysis of model results.
Dr. Glen Peters of the Center for International Climate & Environmental Research in Norway, who co-authored the analysis, said, "Emissions growth in the next few years will depend on whether energy and climate policies can lock in the new trends, and importantly, raise the ambition of emission pledges to be more consistent with the temperature goals of the Paris Agreement."