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expert reaction to global carbon emissions

Publishing in the journal Nature Climate Change a group of scientists has reported that the growth in global carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels and industry since 2000 has slowed in the past two years.


Prof. Richard Betts, Head of Climate Impacts Research at the Met Office Hadley Centre, and Chair in Climate Impacts at the University of Exeter, said:

“The Sunday Times headline on this work was very misleading. Even if CO2 emissions do continue the apparent plateau of the last year, the actual concentrations will continue to rise for some time.

“It’s like filling a bath – to stop it overflowing, you don’t just make the taps run slower as this just delays the inevitable – you have to turn them off altogether.”


Prof. Myles Allen, Professor of Geosystem Science, University of Oxford, said:

“It’s only a matter of time before some bright spark comes out with ‘emissions fell last year while temperatures rose to record heights, PROVING they aren’t connected’ — but, of course, temperatures respond to the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, not the rate of emission in any given year.

“So to stop temperatures rising, net emissions need to be reduced to zero. But for that, emissions need to peak first. So evidence that it is possible to grow the world economy while reducing emissions is of course good news.

“Is this the beginning of the end of global warming? Probably not. But let’s hope it is the end of the beginning.”


Prof. Michael Grubb, Professor of International Energy and Climate Change Policy at University College London, and Editor-in-Chief, Climate Policy journal, said:

“Three big messages in this study could transform the global debate. The trend of rapid global emissions growth has been broken: this keeps 2 deg.C in play. China is starting to win its battle with coal consumption: the question for the next decade is whether coal reductions can offset its consumer-driven growth in oil and gas. And the hard-won policies for clean energy in Europe, and increasingly the US, are delivering: sustained 2%/yr emission reductions over the past decade have accelerated to 4%/yr for the past two years in the EU. There could hardly be better news to help the Paris conference in its final days.”


Prof. David Reay, Professor of Carbon Management at the University of Edinburgh, said:

“These studies show just how crucial breaking our dependency on coal really is. The recent slowdown in coal burning and stalling of CO2 emissions gives hope that we can soon start moving down a global decarbonisation path.

“Be in no doubt, there is a long, long way still to go. To stay within the 2 degrees global warming target emissions can’t just stall, they need to fall.

“Whether 2015 is the year we truly turn the corner on global emissions or is just a blip in the upward march towards dangerous climate change now depends on Paris.”


Dr Tim Osborn, Reader at the Climatic Research Unit, University of East Anglia (UEA), said:

“Lower-than-expected CO2 emissions in 2015 are welcome, but 2015 emissions are still higher than in every year up to 2013 and CO2 is still accumulating in the atmosphere because we are adding it (through our emissions) more quickly than natural processes are able to remove it from the atmosphere and store it in the oceans and forests.”


‘Reaching peak emissions’ by Robert B. Jackson et al. published in Nature Climate Change on Monday 7 December. 


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