The International Energy Agency (IEA) said output of carbon dioxide, the commonest greenhouse gas from burning fossil fuels, would fall by about 2.6% this year worldwide amid a tumble in industrial activity.
It expressed hopes that the world would seize on the decline to shift to lower-carbon growth despite worries that governments might take it as an excuse for inaction.
“This fall in emissions and in investment in fossil fuels will only have meaning with agreement in Copenhagen which provides a low-carbon signal to investors,” said IEA chief economist Fatih Birol.
US carbon emissions will fall 6% this year, the Energy Information Administration said two weeks ago, and Europe’s emissions will fall by 4-5%, Deutsche analyst Mark Lewis said.
Balancing that, industrial output and carbon emissions are rising in developing countries, and especially in the world’s biggest carbon emitter China, but global emissions would drop overall, the IEA said.
“The biggest fall [in about 40 years] was in 1981 at 1.3%, after oil price shocks and economic troubles,” said the IEA’s Birol.
“We estimate this year the fall will be around twice that,” he added.
Some experts expressed doubts that recession and falling industrial output could be a springboard to greener growth.
“When politicians talk about the financial crisis everything is about returning to growth, which means higher emissions,” said Paal Prestrud, director of the Centre for International Climate and Environmental Research in Oslo.
“We have to reduce emissions in a planned way to avoid social problems, not through recession,” he said.
Eyes for today’s summit are on China and the United States, the top emitters which account for more than 40% of the world total, to help spur the Copenhagen talks.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown opened the possibility of turning the December 7-18 Copenhagen talks into a summit of world leaders.
“If it is necessary to clinch the deal, I will personally go to Copenhagen to achieve it – and I will be urging my fellow leaders to do so too,” Brown said.
On September 24-25, leaders of the G-20 will meet in Pittsburgh but Washington said that it would not include a major focus on how developed nations should provide financial support to developing nations to cope with climate change.