The slowdown in emissions growth was caused primarily by a 0.6% fall in the consumption of oil – the first decline in global oil use since 1992. This trend was unevenly distributed around the world. In China oil use continued to rise, but at only 3%, down from an average of 8% since 2001. In the US, oil consumption fell by a massive 7%.
The falling global demand reflects high prices for oil in the first half of 2008 and the economic slowdown in the second half of the year. Increasing biofuel production also helped displace a substantial volume of fossil-fuel petrol and diesel.
Jos Olivier, the NEAA researcher responsible for the new data, acknowledged that the environmental benefits of biofuels would look “less favourable” in a broader analysis considering the impact of all greenhouses gases, rather than CO2 alone. Furthermore, the data does not take into account the CO2 released by deforestation, which accounts for almost 20% of all greenhouse gas emissions and takes place overwhelmingly in the developing world.
Increasing renewable energy capacity and improving energy efficiency in many countries will also have contributed to the reduced rise in CO2 emissions. Olivier said: “The impact of energy and climate policy is hard to distinguish from those of fuel prices and the recession, but policies encouraging renewable electricity generation will have helped avoid around 500 million tonnes of CO2 from fossil-fuel power stations.”
Coal consumption continued to creep up at a slower rate than in previous years, but the rise in the consumption of natural gas remained unchanged.
It is too early to determine whether the recession will lead to global emissions flattening off entirely this year. But policymakers are likely to be particularly struck by the second revelation in the NEAA analysis.
In 2008, the developing-world accounted for 50.3% of CO2 emissions, exceeding developed nations and international travel combined for the first time. With crucial UN climate negotiations over a successor to the Kyoto protocol now less than six months away, this new data will provide useful ammunition for those arguing for binding emissions targets for all nations.