Carbon dioxide emissions worldwide are set to plateau or perhaps decline slightly in 2015, according to work published yesterday in Nature Climate Change.

Experts at the Global Carbon Project and the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom found emissions globally could drop as much as 0.6 percent this year—after growing at that rate in 2014—a sharp difference from the 2.4 percent annual growth rate the world has averaged in the past decade.

“This would be the first decline during a period of strong global economic growth,” the researchers said, noting that a portion of India’s new energy consumption must be from “low-carbon” resources in order for global emissions to peak and then swiftly decline.

“The projected decline is largely attributed to China’s decreased coal use, driven by its economic adjustment,” Corinne Le Quéré, a report author and the director of the University of East Anglia in Norwich’s Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research.

The authors projected the emissions decrease using energy consumption from China, the United States, India, the European Union and the United Kingdom.

“China is trying to deal massively with its air pollution problem,” Le Quéré said, “and its renewables are growing very fast.” Le Quéré said 2015 will likely be an aberration from other years when emissions rose.

The International Energy Agency and a national Dutch body, the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, published comparable projections of slowing global emissions earlier this year.

“To me, the biggest uncertainty is the Chinese data,” Gregg Marland, a geologist at Appalachian State University, said in a statement reviewing yesterday’s paper.

Nearing peak coal?
China released energy data in early November, acknowledging that the country had been burning as much as 17 percent more coal annually than the government’s previous figures had shown.

“It’s unlikely to be a peak of emissions,” Le Quéré added. “A lot of emerging economies are based on coal, and in just a few years, emissions are going to go up really rapidly.”

Chinese economic and development data are the subject of much skepticism and doubt, even within the national political circles.

In March 2007 over dinner, Li Keqiang, then the secretary-general of Liaoning province in northeast China, adjacent to North Korea, told Clark Randt, the U.S. ambassador to China at the time, that the state-released gross domestic product totals were severely flawed.

Nationally issued GDP numbers are “man-made” and inherently unreliable, Li said to Randt, according to a diplomatic cable WikiLeaks obtained.

Instead, Li said, he examines electricity use, trains’ freight volume and loan distribution to get a sense of the Chinese economy.

“This study shows it’s possible to reduce coal use and cut emissions without major economic impacts, refuting skeptics who’ve predicted economic ruin,” said Paul Bledsoe, a former Clinton White House official and climate expert attending the Paris negotiations. “This should boost confidence that a Paris agreement can start a transition to a safer climate and an economically viable pathway to cleaner energy sources.”

China leans toward cap and trade
In a separate effort published yesterday, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology report concluded that climate policy researchers who work in China would prefer an emissions trading market that puts the highest burden on energy-intensive regions and cities in eastern China and, as the market moves west, becomes less costly.

Eastern China, home to the major cities, is wealthier, and its residents have higher per-capita incomes than those in the west, Valerie Karplus, an economics and management professor at MIT, explained in an interview.

An emissions trading system might appeal to political leaders in Beijing in part because it would allow the Chinese government to spread wealth to poorer, less developed regions, Karplus said.

The economic costs of climate change to Southeast Asia could be 60 percent more than forecast six years ago, the Asian Development Bank announced yesterday, revising its 2009 figure.

Without action, the bank said, the region could lose as much as 11 percent of its economic output by 2100.

“The economic costs of not reining in greenhouse gas emissions are more serious than we previously estimated,” ADB chief economist Shang-Jin Wei said in a statement.

Deforestation accounts for the majority of Southeast Asia’s planet-warming gases, the Manila-headquartered bank said, and five countries that are home to about 550 million people—Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam—are responsible for 90 percent of the region’s emissions.

The Global Carbon Project is a voluntary collaboration among scientists to provide a robust and independent analysis of carbon emissions, said Josep Canadell, executive director of the Global Carbon Project, in an interview in August. It releases a report every year on the state of the world’s emissions.

“We do not make any statements that would show that we have a specific agenda,” he said. “Our mission is to provide the most robust data to NGOs, governments, biophysical and social scientists to develop their own models.”

Reporters Lisa Friedman and Gayathri Vaidyanathan contributed.

Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC., 202-628-6500