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Economic woes have an environmental bright side

A faltering global economy may have been at least partially responsible for Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, but it has had environmental benefits.  According to an analysis by the Global Carbon Project, world carbon dioxide emissions from energy and industry have remained flat for the third year in a row.

According to Matt McGrath at the BBC, the economic slowdown in China has played a large part in keeping emissions steady:

“Thanks to the global recession, emissions started to slow down in 2010. However, they have now stalled for the past three years at around 36.4bn tonnes of CO2.

“China’s rapid economic expansion, which saw two new coal-fired power stations being built every week, drove the global rise in CO2 over the past 16 years.  But there has been a sharp slowdown in coal use since 2012, driving Chinese CO2 emissions down 0.7% in 2015, according to this study, and a further 0.5% in 2016.”

Sluggish US growth, coupled to an expansion of renewables, has also contributed:

“US emissions in 2016 continued a downward trend that began in 2007. They were down 2.5% in 2015 and a further 1.7% decline is projected for this year.”

The trouble is that relying on economic hardship (rather than investing in abundant clean energy) to drive down carbon emissions runs the risk of creating the kind of social and political upheavals that could make Brexit and the election of Trump look positively benign.

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