Efforts to cut climate emissions in countries including the UK by switching to renewables and saving energy are starting to pay off, research has found.
Global greenhouse gas emissions which drive climate change continue to rise, but analysis of 18 developed countries whose pollution significantly declined in the decade from 2005 offer a “sliver of hope”, researchers say.
These countries, which include the UK, Ireland, the US, France and Germany and account for 28% of global emissions, have seen carbon pollution fall by 2.4% a year on average between 2005 and 2015.
The declines are due to renewables replacing fossil fuels and decreases in energy use, although a reduction in energy use was partly due to lower economic growth following the global financial crash, Countries with the largest number of energy and climate policies saw the biggest declines, the analysis suggests.
It indicates that efforts to reduce greenhouse gases are under way in many countries but need to be maintained and enhanced with stronger policy actions to drive the emissions reductions needed tackle climate change.
The research, which compared the countries with falling emissions to others where they rose, found that while policies backing renewables in developed countries were linked to cuts in pollution, that is not the case in other places.
In rapidly-developing nations, roll-out of clean tech is adding extra energy generation rather than displacing fossil fuels.
However, policies encouraging energy efficiency were linked to cuts in emissions across all countries, the study published in the journal Nature Climate Change said.
Under the international Paris Agreement on climate change, countries have committed to keeping global temperature rises “well below” 2C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to curb them to 1.5C.
This requires global emissions to peak and start to fall rapidly to near zero in the second half of the century.
But global carbon emissions rose in 2017 and 2018, undermining hopes they had peaked after several years of no or little growth in pollution.
Lead researcher Prof Corinne Le Quere, of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia (UEA), said: “Our findings suggest that policies to tackle climate change are helping to decrease emissions in many countries.
“This is good news, but this is just the start.
“There is a long way to go to cut global emissions down to near zero, which is what is needed to stop climate change.
“Deploying renewable energy worldwide is a good step but by itself it is not enough – fossil fuels also have to be phased out.”
Dr Charlie Wilson, also from UEA, said: “New scientific research on climate change tends to ring the alarm bells ever more loudly.
“Our findings add a thin sliver of hope. It is possible for countries to peak and then decline their emissions year in, year out.
“Eighteen countries so far have shown us how concerted policy ambition and action on energy efficiency, renewables, and climate targets can work.
“Now we must make sure these early precedents become the rule not the exception. This is a huge global challenge.”