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Richer and cleaner

发布时间:2019-03-07 13:08:03来源:未知点击:

By Fred Pearce A RARE piece of good news about the global climate arrived this week. Emissions of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas involved in global warming, fell last year despite a surge in the world economy. The 0.5 per cent fall in global carbon emissions is the first since the start of the decade, when the collapse of socialist economies in Eastern Europe caused a brief drop. This time, however, modern technology is lending a hand and some large, fast-growing economies are reducing emissions. “During the past two years, the global economy has grown by 6.8 per cent, while carbon emissions held steady,” says Chris Flavin of the Worldwatch Institute in Washington DC, who made the calculations using data from BP Amoco. The news should boost flagging negotiations to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. Industrialised nations agreed to national targets two years ago in Kyoto. But Congress in the US—the world’s largest emitter—has failed to back the deal because it fears emissions cuts could harm economic growth. Emissions still increased last year in the US, but only by 0.4 per cent compared with economic growth of 3.9 per cent. “The decline in emissions in 1998 is a sign that it may be less difficult to slow global warming than has been assumed,” says Flavin. China, the world’s second largest carbon emitter, managed a 3.7 per cent drop in emissions in 1998 while the economy grew by 7.2 per cent. This startling reversal was caused, says Flavin, by a recent cut of $15 billion in subsidies for Chinese industry to burn coal. Coal produces more CO2 for each unit of energy produced than either oil or natural gas. Poland also showed a dramatic 9.7 cut in emissions despite economic growth of 6 per cent as it jettisons old coal-based industries. Phasing out coal burning in favour of natural gas in Britain and Germany has also helped emissions from the European Union to remain steady through the 1990s. But according to Flavin the rise of modern low-polluting industries is as important as the switch from coal. “Much of the economic growth of the last two years has come in information technologies and services, ” he says. “Operating the entire Internet, for instance, requires less electricity than New York City uses.” Governments should not take the credit for the turnaround, according to Michael Grubb, visiting professor of energy policy at Imperial College, London. “The one thing that these figures do not represent is the success of any government policies,” he says. “Rather, they suggest that emissions trends and economic growth are decoupling of their own accord.” As a result Grubb fears the Kyoto targets were too soft. With emissions cuts of 60 per cent needed just to stabilise atmospheric CO2 at current levels,