A reduction in China's reliance on coal power plants has seen global carbon emissions growth slow over the last three years. Photo by Reinhard Tiburzy/Shutterstock
NORWICH, England, Nov. 14 (UPI) -- Global carbon emissions rates are still on the rise, but they're not growing as quickly as they have in the past.
New research out of the University of East Anglia has revealed a third consecutive year of slowed carbon emissions growth.
Between 2003 and 2013, global carbon emissions rose an average of 2.3 percent annually. Scientists expect emissions to rise just 0.2 percent in 2016.
Researchers at the University of East Anglia and Global Carbon Project suggest a reduction in coal burning in China is to thank for the recent slowdown.
The new numbers are somewhat surprising given the rate of global economic growth.
"This third year of almost no growth in emissions is unprecedented at a time of strong economic growth," Corinne Le Quéré, a climate scientist at UEA, said in a news release. "This is a great help for tackling climate change but it is not enough. Global emissions now need to decrease rapidly, not just stop growing."
China's economy isn't the only one that burned less coal in 2016. Carbon emissions growth has also slowed in the United States as the energy industry continues to ignore coal in favor of oil and gas.
Still, climate scientists agree a slowdown in emissions growth isn't enough to avoid the worst of the effects of global warming. A reversal is necessary.
"If climate negotiators in Marrakesh can build momentum for further cuts in emissions, we could be making a serious start to addressing climate change," Le Quéré said.
Despite the slowdown, average concentration of CO2 in Earth's atmosphere reached an all-time high this year -- breaking the record set a year ago.
"Part of the CO2 emissions are absorbed by the ocean and by trees," Le Quéré explained. "With temperatures soaring in 2015 and 2016, less CO2 was absorbed by trees because of the hot and dry conditions related to the El Niño event."
Until carbon emissions are reduced to zero, researchers warn, the planet will continue to warm.