Martin Messner/File/AP

Emissions responsible for climate change leveled off in 2014

Report from the International Energy Agency says early data is a hopeful sign ahead of global climate change talks

Global carbon dioxide emissions from the energy sector stalled in 2014 for the first time in 40 years during a period of economic growth, the International Energy Agency said Friday.

By far the main culprit in global warming, carbon dioxide emissions stood at 32.3 billion tons in 2014, unchanged from the previous year, the IEA said.

"This is both a very welcome surprise and a significant one," IEA chief economist Fatih Birol said. The agency will release its full report June 15.

"It provides much-needed momentum to negotiators preparing to forge a global climate deal in Paris in December: for the first time, greenhouse gas emissions are decoupling from economic growth," he said in a statement. The report looked at countries that are members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). 

"The preliminary IEA data suggest that efforts to mitigate climate change may be having a more pronounced effect on emissions than had previously been thought," the statement added.

The slowdown came thanks to "changing patterns of energy consumption in China and OECD countries,” said the statement.

China, the world's top CO2 emitter, used more renewable energy in 2014 such as hydropower, solar and wind, while it burned less coal, the IEA said.

OECD countries, which include the United States and several European nations, intensified efforts to become more energy efficient and use more renewable sources, it added. The IEA is an arm of the OECD. 

In the 40 years since the Paris-based IEA was set up in the wake of the 1973 oil crisis, there have only been three other times when emissions stalled or fell.

"All were associated with global economic weakness: the early 1980s, 1992 and 2009. In 2014, however, the global economy expanded by 3%," said the 29-member organization.

Birol said: "This gives me even more hope that humankind will be able to work together to combat climate change, the most important threat facing us today."

But the IEA said the world must continue to make strides in reducing carbon output.

"The latest data on emissions are indeed encouraging, but this is no time for complacency — and certainly not the time to use this positive news as an excuse to stall further action," said IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven.

Other scientists cautioned against rejoicing over the news. 

"One year is not enough," Corinne Le Quéré, director of the University of East Anglia’s Tyndall Institute for Climate Change Research, told New Scientist. Le Quéré was not involved in the study.

"I would want to see a sustained trend for, say, five years or so, or at least a detailed analysis of what is going on. It is plausible. It could be that this is the peak and we're going down from here,” she said. “That would be wonderful, but we won't know that for a few years."

A key climate change conference, organized by the United Nations, will be held in Paris in December.

Tasked with trying to limit the rise in global temperatures to two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-Industrial Revolution levels, countries have until March 31 to announce their commitment to cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

The EU has formally adopted a 40 percent cut in emissions by 2030, while the United States has announced plans to slash 26 to 28 percent of its emissions in 2025 compared to their level in 2005.

Al Jazeera and Agence France-Presse

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