CO2 emissions are on the rise–yet again

Global greenhouse gas emissions are once again on the rise.

The most recent report from the International Energy Agency on energy trends and CO2 emissions was just released. The report is titled : Global Energy & CO2 Status Report 2017 and is available here.

It makes sobering reading.

Although 2017 energy-related emissions of carbon dioxide from a few countries decreased—including ironically the USA, globally the story is very different.

After three years when emissions were flat—prompting hope that global emissions might be peaking, they are once again on the rise.  Global energy-related CO2 emissions grew by 1.4% in 2017.

Energy demand increased almost everywhere:

  • World oil demand rose by 1.6% in 2017, a rate more than twice the annual average over the last decade. More SUVs and light trucks on the streets was apparently a factor—together with strong demand from the petrochemical sector;
  • Global natural gas demand grew by 3%–encouraged by low prices and abundant supply. China alone accounted for 30% of the growth.
  • Even the global demand for coal rose 1%–reversing the declining trend over the last two years. This upturn was mainly due to the demand in Asia and predominantly for coal-fired electricity generation.
  • Renewables continued to show strong growth—but from a much smaller base that is not getting any larger. The overall share of fossil fuels in global energy demand in 2017 remained at 81 %, a level that has remained the same for more than three decades despite strong growth in renewables.

Worse: improvements in global energy efficiency slowed. The rate of decline in global energy intensity slowed to only 1.6 % in 2017, down from the 2.0 % improvement recorded in 2016.

The growth in energy demand was concentrated in Asia, with China and India together representing more than 40 % of the increase.

Perhaps the most shocking statistic is the resurgence of coal in 2017.

Is it just a coincidence that 2017 was also the year that emissions of CO2 started to increase once again?

Canada, the US, and Australia are all exporting coal to Asia, or planning to. Out of sight out of mind?  But the extreme weather caused by higher levels of atmospheric CO2 will have a global impact.

Is the Paris Agreement dead?

This information from the IEA comes not long after UNEP’s Emissions Gap report and the Carbon Action Tracker November 2017 update which show how the level of greenhouse gas emissions needs to be reduced by a whopping 40 % by 2030 if the Paris target of 1.5 to 2°C of warming is to be achieved.  Current policies are the taking the world into +5°C territory—a catastrophic sscenario.

The road not taken

The destination is clear. But who will show the way?

Europe has articulated a clear vision of the road ahead. The roadmap to a low-carbon economy developed by the European Commission aims to cut greenhouse gases by 80 % in 2050 compared to 1990 values.

Possible 80% cut in EU greenhouse gas emissions by 2050

If this vision is to be achieved, the power sector is forecast to almost totally eliminate CO2 emissions by 2050, and electricity replaces fossil fuels in transport and heating.  In the residential and tertiary sectors, more efficient energy use is they key to reduced emissions.  For industry, emissions are reduced through a combination of efficiency improvements and new technology including carbon capture and storage.

The first waypoint on this road is a 40% reduction by 2030.

 

But this is Europe. The other major economies are not on the same road. Not even close.

The IEA report also notes that global fossil fuel consumption subsidies amounted to $260 billion in 2016.

This is insane.  These subsidies should absolutely be eliminated. The market works well when the playing field is level—witness the shift from coal to natural gas in the US, and the economic collapse of nuclear energy.

Solar photovoltaic and wind power are hugely competitive energy technologies but their uptake will be constantly impeded if fossil fuels are subsidized.

The next COP meeting on the Paris Agreement planned for Poland in December needs to provide much stronger guidance to member States that are party to the Agreement. It makes no sense to get tangled up in procedural matters and how emission reductions are to be measured and reported if in fact emissions are going up not down.

Some things are easily measured.  Renewable energy targets are easy to quantify and verify. If the power sector is 90% renewable, you don’t need to bother with measuring CO2 emissions. If transportation is becoming electrified or using biofuels, just count the vehicles and figure out the reduction in emissions.  The UNFCCC complicates things by always focusing on process, not action.

Here’s six action items that should be agreed upon at the next Conference of the Parties to the Paris Agreement. Participating countries should:

  1. Eliminate fossil fuel subsidies. More than 50 countries have committed to phasing out fossil fuel subsidies. But the major economies now need to sign up–particularly the US and Canada. The agreement should be obligatory, comprehensive, and immediate;
  2. Declare coal a global health threat. Exports of coal should be quite simply banned. Coal-fired power generation is to be completely phased out within five years;
  3. Tax the emissions of carbon and agree on the mechanism to be employed and the timeline;
  4. Set renewable energy targets for the power sector in 2030, 2040 and 2050;
  5. Set targets for the use of renewable energy in transport for the same waypoints;
  6. Set targets for energy efficiency.

The IEA report should be a wake-up call. The Paris Agreement was a good start but it’s already clear that much more needs to be done.

At COP24 in Poland in December, it’s time for some serious action.

 

 

For more information:

For the European Commission low-carbon roadmap see: 2050 low carbon economy at: https://ec.europa.eu/clima/policies/strategies/2050_en

The Emission Gap Report can be accessed at : The Emissions Gap Report 2017, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), available at: https://www.unenvironment.org/resources/emissions-gap-report

The Climate Action Tracker November 2017 update can be found at: http://climateactiontracker.org/assets/publications/briefing_papers/CAT_2017-11-15_Improvement-in-warming-outlook.pdf

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