Global emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) - thought to play a large role in global warming - increased at a slower pace in 2012 than in previous years, according to data published on October 31, 2013 .

Global CO2 emissions increased by 1.1 per cent in 2012, reaching 34.5 billion tonnes, according to the joint EU-Dutch Emissions Database for Global Atmospheric Research (EDGAR). This is compared to average annual increases of 2.9 per cent over the last decade.

The slowdown was “remarkable” because the global economy had grown by 3.5 per cent in the same year, said the European Union’s Joint Research Centre and the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency.

“This development signals a shift towards less fossil-fuel intensive activities, more use of renewable energy and increased energy saving,” they wrote.

Fossil fuel usage had increased as follows in 2012: 2.2-per-cent for natural gas; 0.9 per cent for oil products; and 0.6 per cent for coal, with China the largest consumer.

In Europe, the use of coal shot up by 3 per cent in 2012, mostly due to increases in Spain, Britain and Germany – with the latter switching to coal as an alternative to nuclear power.

The share of new renewable energy sources – solar, wind, and biofuel – was growing ever faster, reaching 2.4 per cent of the overall power mix in 2012, according to the data.

They said that CO2 emissions could slow down further if:

  • China meets its 2015 targets for energy use
  • the US keeps boosting gas and renewables as a share of the energy mix
  • EU member states improve their emissions trading system, under which companies “buy” the right to pollute.