The global recession has an up side, at least for people worried about climate change: carbon emissions are growing more slowly than in recent years, Dutch researchers said Thursday.
But they also said the emissions of developing countries were higher than those of the industrialized world for the first time last year.
Less money in the bank, higher oil prices and a growing use of wind, solar and other renewable energy resources put a brake last year on the increase of the most common greenhouse gas blamed for global warming, said the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency.
The growth in CO2 emissions halved to 1.7 percent, compared with a growth of 3.3 percent in 2007, and an average annual growth of 4 percent since 2002, said the report.
The world spewed 31.5 billion tons of carbon into the air last year, more than double the amount in 1970, it said.
Emissions actually declined by 3 percent in the United States in 2008 from the previous year, largely because high gasoline prices kept road travel down, said the agency, a government-funded body that advises the Netherlands on environmental policy.
U.S. fossil fuel consumption fell 7 percent last year, which led to global decline of 0.6 percent — the first drop since 1992, the report said.
"Every major economic recession would cause a blip on the energy consumption statistics and on carbon emissions," said Jos Olivier, the report's lead author. Whether the trend continues depends on the economic recovery, oil prices and on government policies that could encourage the curbing of pollution, he said in an interview.
The agency based its assessment on data gathered from a variety of sources, including a country-by-country fuel trend report by British Petroleum and statistics from the European Union's Joint Research Center, the International Energy Agency in Paris and the Energy Information Agency in Washington. Two years ago it was the first to report that China had overtaken the United States as the world's largest emitter.
The report takes on added significance since it comes five months before 192 countries are due to agree on a new deal to control greenhouse gases, replacing the Kyoto Protocol that expires in 2012. Under Kyoto, industrialized countries agreed to reduce carbon emissions by 5 percent from 1990 levels, while developing countries faced no obligations.
Olivier said one message of the report is that developing countries are equally important in combating climate change.
The report said China's emissions grew 6 percent last year, the lowest rate since 2001. China's voracious use of coal and its production of cement and steel have tapered off since peaking in 2004, when its one-year increase in pollution was 17 percent.
In negotiations on a climate change accord to be concluded in Copenhagen, China has refused to accept binding limits on its carbon emissions, arguing that per person it emits far less than the United States and Europe.
The Dutch report said that gap is shrinking. China emitted 2 tons of CO2 per capita in 1990, but that has now reached 5.5 tons. That remains far below U.S. levels, which was 18.5 tons per capita last year.