Slowdown in Carbon Emissions Worldwide, but Coal Burning Continues to Grow


Global emissions of carbon dioxide are slowing somewhat from the rapid pace of the last decade, new figures show, but growth in coal burning continues to outstrip the growth in other forms of energy, and experts said the world remains far from meeting international goals on climate change. Scientists compiling the numbers said it was unclear whether the slowdown in the growth of emissions might represent the beginnings of a permanent shift. One-time factors in China, including the opening of several large new dams to supply electricity, played a substantial role, as did slower economic growth there. The new figures were released late Monday by the Global Carbon Project, which tracks emissions. They showed that carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of fossil fuels and the production of cement rose by 2.1 percent in 2012, compared with 2011, and they are projected to rise by a similar amount in 2013. Since 2000, growth in such emissions had been running above 3 percent a year, on average. Scientists said that more aggressive climate policies in some countries may have played some role in the slowdown. Emissions are falling in the United States, thanks to factors that include an abundance of natural gas, which is displacing coal in the generation of power, and to tougher mileage standards for new cars. They are also falling in Europe, where a weak economy has reduced demand for power. Yet on a global scale, the continuing expansion of coal, the dirtiest form of fossil energy and the one associated with the highest emissions of greenhouse gases, is far outstripping the growth of renewables and other low-carbon sources of power. “Coal is king, still,” said Glen P. Peters, a researcher at the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research in Oslo and a leader of the group that produced the new analysis. The countries of the world have set a goal of limiting global warming to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, or 2 degrees Celsius, above the preindustrial level. But that will require emissions to peak and begin to decline toward a low level by 2050. “At the moment, it’s very hard to see any evidence that we’re going to peak any time soon,” Dr. Peters said. In Warsaw this week, negotiations are underway toward a new global climate treaty intended to limit emissions, but it is not even supposed to take effect until 2020, and no deal is assured. In a speech on Monday in Warsaw, the United Nations’ top officer on climate change warned coal industry executives that much of the world’s coal will need to be left in the ground if international climate goals are to be met. Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, told industry leaders at the World Coal Summit, which the Polish government called somewhat incongruously to run at the same time as the 19th meeting of the United Nations climate conference, that they were putting the global climate and their shareholders at risk by failing to support the search for alternative methods of producing energy. Poland relies on coal for nearly 90 percent of its electricity, and the government has upset the European mainstream by spurning efforts to slow the use of the fuel. “Let me be clear from the outset that my joining you today is neither a tacit approval of coal use, nor is it a call for the immediate disappearance of coal,” Ms. Figueres said. “But I am here to say that coal must change rapidly and dramatically for everyone’s sake.” She cited a “business continuation risk” for the coal industry if it does not play a larger role in finding ways to limit emissions. One option would be to capture emissions of carbon dioxide from coal-burning power plants and inject them into deep underground formations, but development of that technology, known as carbon capture and storage, has received little support from the industry or from governments. Godfrey G. Gomwe, chairman of the World Coal Association’s energy and climate committee, responded in a speech that, with “1.3 billion people in the world who live without access to electricity,” the questions of climate change and poverty reduction could not be separated. “A life lived without access to modern energy is a life lived in poverty,” said Mr. Gomwe, who is also chief executive of the mining company Anglo American’s thermal coal business. “As much as some may wish it, coal is not going away.” Todd Stern, the United States envoy on climate change, said at a news conference in Warsaw that the world’s reliance on coal is “not going to change overnight.” But, “high efficiency coal is certainly better than low efficiency coal,” he added, noting that carbon capture and storage technology was “the most important hope” for coal’s future.



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