As UN negotiators headed to Morocco for COP22 in November to hammer out the rules of last year’s Paris Climate Agreement, a bit of good news greeted them: for the second year in a row, global GHG emissions appear to be unchanged, despite increased global economic output of around 3%. Normally only economic recessions have caused GHG emissions to halt in their historically steady upward climb, but according to a study by a huge research team at the Global Carbon Project and the University of East Anglia, anthropogenic emissions in 2016 are projected to increase by only 0.06% over 2015 (with room for error, they are essentially unchanged).
The study shows decreasing emissions from China and the United States, the world’s first- and second-largest GHG emitters, respectively, as the primary factors holding global emissions level. The fact that both nations have experienced steady GDP growth in 2016, a projection of 6.7% for China and 2.5% for the United States, lends weight to the argument that GHG mitigation actions are not necessarily harmful to economic growth. However, GHG emission increases in developing nations and in the European Union offset the China and U.S. reductions, preventing the year 2016 from seeing global decreases overall.
While two years of unchanged global GHG emissions is good news, it should nonetheless evoke a sense of caution. Two years does not a long-term trend make, nor is it a downward trend that is necessary to make serious headway against severe climate change impacts. Vast amounts of GHGs are still accumulating in the atmosphere year over year. It is encouraging to have evidence that global mitigation efforts are starting to work, but that evidence also serves as a reminder that our efforts must continue and intensify to produce further momentum in the right direction. The work of GHG mitigation and research groups like GMI, the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) and Global Carbon Project is just as relevant and imperative as ever.