Carbon Emissions Barely Increased in 2014

Smog makers

By Jonny Wakefield

December 3, 2015

Global carbon emissions were nearly flat in 2014, and not because of a shrinking economy.

According to a report from the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency and the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre, greenhouse gas output grew only a half a percentage point last year, while the global economy grew.

Since the early 2000s, global emissions have risen between three and four per cent each year with a growing economy. Typically, declines in greenhouse gas emissions have been tied to a contracting global economy, but 2014 bucked that trend.

There were a variety of factors driving the lower rate of increase. The report found that reduced energy intensity and a smaller appetite for coal in China were driving down the growth of that country’s carbon output. China’s overall emissions grew just 0.9 per cent in 2014, while its economy grew by around 7.5 per cent.

G20 economies grew at a rate of around 3.4 per cent last year. While emissions in the EU fell 5.4 per cent due to a warm winter and lower fossil-fuel consumption, U.S. emissions grew around 0.9 per cent, with a 2.4 per cent rate of growth. 

In Canada, the relationship between economic growth and emissions has been the subject of political debate.

Former prime minister Stephen Harper claimed his government was the first in Canadian history to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while growing the economy, though that decline only occurred during the economic recession of 2008 and 2009. Emissions have grown again since then, though they haven’t caught up to pre-2008 levels.

Many point to Ontario’s phase-out of coal-fired power plants and British Columbia’s carbon tax as having contributed to the slower growth of emissions in recent years. However, Canada is expected to miss its own greenhouse gas reduction targets set out in Copenhagen in 2009.

The country accounts for around 2 per cent of global emissions.