Carbon emissions fall by steepest in 40 years

LONDON (Reuters) - Global emissions of the commonest man-made greenhouse gas carbon dioxide will fall by the sharpest rate in 40 years in 2009 following tumbling factory output, the International Energy Agency said on Monday.

The world must use the drop of about 2.6 percent to drive a global fight against climate change, rather than allow emissions to rise again as after previous recessions, Fatih Birol, IEA chief economist, told Reuters in an interview.

“The biggest fall (in about 40 years) was in 1981, at 1.3 percent, after oil price shocks and economic troubles,” Birol said. “We estimate this year the fall will be around twice that.”

As well as trimming burning high-carbon fossil fuels the financial crisis had stunted investment in new energy infrastructure, which could also help a global transition to low-carbon alternatives, Birol said.

“This fall in emissions and in investment in fossil fuels will only have meaning with agreement in Copenhagen which provides a low-carbon signal to investors,” he said. The IEA is energy adviser to 28 industrialized countries.

The world is meant to thrash out in Copenhagen in December a new, tougher climate pact to replace the Kyoto Protocol after 2012, under faltering U.N.-led talks.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is holding a one-day climate change summit for world leaders at the U.N. headquarters in New York on Tuesday, to drive momentum for the process.

Global emissions in 2009 would drop overall, the IEA said, balancing falling production in the developed world with rising emissions in big developing countries.

U.S. carbon emissions will fall 6 percent this year, the Energy Information Administration said two weeks ago [ID:nN09339265], and Europe’s emissions will fall by 4-5 percent, Deutsche analyst Mark Lewis told Reuters.

But industrial output and carbon emissions are rising in developing countries, and especially in the world’s biggest carbon emitter China.


Some analysts see a prospective drop in greenhouse gas emissions this year as a dangerous distraction from a more worrying impact of the financial crisis -- falling investment in clean energy including wind and solar power.

New investment in clean energy rallied in the second quarter of 2009 but was still a third down from the same period last year.

And a strong rebound in economic growth in developing countries means global emissions could still rise this year, according to other analysts.

“It could be that the balance is just positive again, it’s not impossible,” said Jos Olivier, senior scientist at the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, pointing to growing steel output in China.

Global crude steel production rose to its highest in almost a year in August, figures from the World Steel Association showed on Monday, with output in China, the world’s biggest producer and consumer of the metal, rising 22 percent.

The IEA will publish fuller details of its carbon emissions forecasts on October 6 in Bangkok, on the sidelines of U.N. talks. The forecasts are an early excerpt of the agency’s annual set-piece World Energy Outlook, published in London on November 10.

Editing by Sue Thomas