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OSLO (Reuters) - Industrialized nations' greenhouse gas emissions fell by 2.2 percent in 2008, the steepest decline since the break-up of the Soviet Union as economies slowed, a Reuters compilation showed Wednesday.
Emissions are likely to have fallen more sharply in 2009 due to recession that analysts said was a bigger brake than government policies meant to shift from use of fossil fuels toward cleaner energies such as wind or solar power.
Final government data sent to the United Nations in recent days -- used to judge compliance with climate treaties -- shows that emissions from 36 nations fell to 17.10 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents in 2008 from 17.48 billion in 2007.
U.S. greenhouse emissions fell by 2.8 percent to the lowest level since 2001 and European Union emissions were down 2.0 percent. Among the top industrialized emitters, Russia was the main exception with a 1.9 percent rise in 2008.
The overall 2008 fall drove industrialized nations' emissions to 6.7 percent below levels in 1990, the U.N. benchmark year for judging efforts to avert heatwaves, floods, droughts, species extinctions and rising sea levels.
"The fall in carbon emissions from developed countries in 2008 is most likely an early sign of the impact of the global financial crisis," Pep Canadell, head of the Global Carbon Project at Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Research Organization, told Reuters..
"There is no basis for suspecting that the decline is the result of a coordinated and new effort in emission reductions with sudden results in 2008," he said. Oil prices peaked at $147 a barrel in July 2008, also contributing to cuts in energy use.
The 2.2 percent fall is the biggest for industrialized nations since a tumble of 3.5 percent in 1992, the year after the collapse of the Soviet Union and smokestack industries in the former communist bloc, according to U.N. data.
Carbon emissions from European factories and power plants fell more than 11 percent in 2009, recent data showed, after a 3 percent fall in 2008.
A few developed countries, including Australia, have not yet submitted 2008 numbers. Canadell said world emissions probably rose overall in 2008, pushed up by growth in China and India, which do not report annual data.
The 2008 falls will help many industrialized nations meet goals under the U.N.'s Kyoto Protocol. Developed nations except the United States are due to cut emissions by an average of at least 5.2 percent below 1990 levels by 2008-12.
And it may make cuts by 2020 promised at the U.N.'s Copenhagen climate summit in December seem less daunting.
U.S. President Barack Obama's target of cutting emissions by about 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, for instance, works out as "just" 14.8 percent from 2008's 6.9 billion. U.S. legislation to cap emissions is stalled in the Senate.
"The economic crisis can help," said Steffen Kallbekken, a researcher at the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research, Oslo. But he said recession also cut EU carbon prices, for instance, threatening green investments.
Economic growth for rich nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) slowed to 0.6 percent in 2008 from 2.7 percent in 2007. The OECD estimates an economic contraction of 3.5 percent in 2009.
(With extra reporting by Gerard Wynn in London, Editing Lin Noueihed)
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