• 12.07.15

The World May Have Hit Peak Carbon Emissions

The year, for the first time, emissions have likely dropped while the global economy was growing.

The World May Have Hit Peak Carbon Emissions
[Top Photo: Flickr user Marcus Quigmire]

One of the biggest developments to come out of the Paris climate talks may have nothing to do with a treaty agreement. Data released at the talks today shows that the world may have hit peak carbon, and that humankind may finally be on its way to lowering industrial carbon dioxide emissions.


The Global Carbon Project released the figures in Paris, which were also published in a paper in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Flickr user Les Chatfield

The research shows that industrial carbon emissions rose only slightly in 2014 and are projected to decrease by 0.6% in 2015. This is notable because the last two years have been a time of economic growth. Historically, as after the 2008 financial crash, emissions have only slumped when there is an economic slowdown. The fact that emissions may have dropped slightly while the global economy is growing indicate that a real turnaround on the climate problem–or the carbon emitted per unit of GDP–may be in the works.

The researchers attributed the recent slowing and decrease in emissions to three factors: less coal use in China (the biggest factor), slower global growth of petroleum, and faster growth of renewables.

Data from the next few years will be needed to confirm such a trend (and the reliability of China’s coal consumption decrease.) Importantly, China’s and India’s growth going forward–and how that growth is fueled, with coal or renewables–will determine whether this year is just a blip or if it is the year the world started to save itself from itself. Either way, a lot more work is needed in Paris.

As the authors of the paper write: “Even if emissions were to peak soon, global emissions would still take years to decline substantively. An acceleration in the transformation of energy use and production is needed.”

About the author

Jessica Leber is a staff editor and writer for Fast Company's Co.Exist. Previously, she was a business reporter for MIT’s Technology Review and an environmental reporter at ClimateWire.