2014 – Flat Carbon Emissions Rate With a 3% GDP Increase: One Year is Not a Trend Maker But Can be an Attractive Candidate for a Reference.

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Recently, a number of publications came out with great news: in the last year, global energy-related greenhouse gas emissions remained steady, even as global economic activity grew at a rate of 3%. The numbers come from a recent IEA (International Energy Agency) report:

Global energy-related emissions of carbon dioxide stalled in 2014

IEA data point to emissions decoupling from economic growth for the first time in 40 years

13 March 2015

Data from the International Energy Agency (IEA) indicate that global emissions of carbon dioxide from the energy sector stalled in 2014, marking the first time in 40 years in which there was a halt or reduction in emissions of the greenhouse gas that was not tied to an economic downturn.

“This gives me even more hope that humankind will be able to work together to combat climate change, the most important threat facing us today,” said IEA Chief Economist Fatih Birol, recently named to take over from Maria van der Hoeven as the next IEA Executive Director.

Global emissions of carbon dioxide stood at 32.3 billion tonnes in 2014, unchanged from the preceding year. The preliminary IEA data suggest that efforts to mitigate climate change may be having a more pronounced effect on emissions than had previously been thought.

The IEA attributes the halt in emissions growth to changing patterns of energy consumption in China and OECD countries. In China, 2014 saw greater generation of electricity from renewable sources, such as hydropower, solar and wind, and less burning of coal. In OECD economies, recent efforts to promote more sustainable growth – including greater energy efficiency and more renewable energy – are producing the desired effect of decoupling economic growth from greenhouse gas emissions.

“This is both a very welcome surprise and a significant one,” added Birol. “It provides much-needed momentum to negotiators preparing to forge a global climate deal in Paris in December: for the first time, greenhouse gas emissions are decoupling from economic growth.”

In the 40 years in which the IEA has been collecting data on carbon dioxide emissions, there have only been three times in which emissions have stood still or fallen compared to the previous year, and all were associated with global economic weakness: the early 1980’s; 1992 and 2009. In 2014, however, the global economy expanded by 3%.

More details on the data and analysis will be included in an IEA special report on energy and climate that will be released on 15 June in London. The report will provide decision-makers with analysis of national climate pledges in the context of the recent downturn in fossil fuel prices, suggest pragmatic policy measures to advance climate goals without blunting economic growth, and assess adaptation needs, including in the power sectors of China and India.

“The latest data on emissions are indeed encouraging, but this is no time for complacency – and certainly not the time to use this positive news as an excuse to stall further action,” said IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven.

To put the achievement into context, let’s go back to the IPAT identity that I originally introduced in November 2012, which I have also referred to recently with regards to the energy policy in India (Feb. 24, 2015 blog):

There is a useful identity that correlates the environmental impacts (greenhouse gases, in Governor’s Romney statement) with the other indicators. The equation is known as the IPAT equation (or I=PAT), which stands for Impact Population Affluence Technology. The equation was proposed independently by two research teams; one consists of Paul R. Ehrlich and John Holdren (now President Obama’s Science Adviser), while the other is led by Barry Commoner (P.R. Ehrlich and J.P. Holdren; Bulletin of Atmospheric Science 28:16 (1972). B. Commoner; Bulletin of Atmospheric Science 28:42 (1972).)

The identity takes the following form:

Impact = Population x Affluence x Technology

Indeed, as the IEA mentioned, this is the first time in 40 years that a halt or reduction in emission of greenhouse gases was not tied to an economic downturn (the affluence term in the identity).

However, almost immediately after the IEA announcement, many voices pointed out that “one year is not a trend setter.” In this case, the skeptics are absolutely right. That said, it is great that this one example came out before the scheduled United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21) convenes to (finally) draft a global agreement on mitigation. This marks a great global reference point; the “only” thing that we have to do is to continue the trend and draft it into an agreement. Since this phenomenon has already happened, it can no longer be said to be impossible, a fact that the new head of the IEA highlights in the announcement. To make it a trend we need an agreement that all countries will be committed to following; not just an accidental development.

Table 1 below summarizes the efforts of the 10 largest CO2 emitters, based on the latest findings of the 2014 Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI), compiled annually by the German organization Germanwatch. These 10 countries are responsible for 2/3 of all global emissions. The table shows their global share of the four factors that appear in the IPAT identity, with the resulting global share of the emission.

Key Data For the 10 Largest CO2 Emitters 2013-14
Table 1 –
Key Data for the 10 largest CO2 emitters.

The CCPI ranking in the table above shows the 2013 and 2014 Climate Change Performance Indexes that Germanwatch compiled for these countries.

The report then uses Poland (not one of the 10 largest contributors, but still among the worst in the EU) to illustrate the criteria for the ranking. These numbers reflect the CCPI’s new methodology (restructured after 7 years of operation), which includes weighting of the individual indicators with a much stronger focus on renewable energy and efficiency as the most prominent mitigation strategies.

Indicators Weighting Score Rank
Primary Energy Supply per Capita 7.5% 75.84 25
CO2 Emissions per Capita 7.5% 67.74 38
Target-Performance comparison 10% 63.55 35
Emission from Deforestation per Capita 5% 72.91 17
Development of Emissions
CO2 Emissions from Electricity and Heat Production 10% 69.84 29
CO2 Emissions from Manufacturing and Industry 8% 70.59 29
CO2 Emissions from Road Traffic 4% 12.62 58
CO2 Emissions from Residential use and Buildings 4% 22.48 56
CO2 Emissions from Aviation 4% 26.46 55
Renewable Energy
Share in Renewable Energy in Total Primary Energy Supply 2% 14.27 32
Development of Energy Supply from Renewable Energy Sources 8% 51.92 16
Efficiency
Efficiency Level 5% 47.24 52
Efficiency Trends 5% 86.16 9
Policy
International Climate Policy 10% 15.31 51
National Climate Policy 10% 41.87 33

Table 2 Criteria and results for the Climate Change Performance Index for Poland

As these tables show us, the 10 largest emitters are not doing very well in terms of improvement. Only Germany and India, both of which we have examined here in previous series of blogs, rank as moderate with regards to progress. The rest are marked poor and very poor. In order to be able to convert the global 2014 flat emission rates from an incidental event to a trend, the 2015 Paris meeting will have to result in commitments dedicated to significant improvements in all of these countries. Let’s hope that can happen.

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About climatechangefork

Micha Tomkiewicz, Ph.D., is a professor of physics in the Department of Physics, Brooklyn College, the City University of New York. He is also a professor of physics and chemistry in the School for Graduate Studies of the City University of New York. In addition, he is the founding-director of the Environmental Studies Program at Brooklyn College as well as director of the Electrochemistry Institute at that same institution.

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6 Responses to 2014 – Flat Carbon Emissions Rate With a 3% GDP Increase: One Year is Not a Trend Maker But Can be an Attractive Candidate for a Reference.

  1. Mai says:

    The countries are now paying attention to the climate change according to IEA announcement. Working together as one hand to save the planet after we started destroying it by using whatever cause the global warming, is now the most important thing .
    The date according to IEA is a really good date which making the countries have no choice to not help the earth

  2. Asma says:

    Regarding to the report of The International Energy Agency in 2014 The Energy-related carbon dioxide emissions was steady globally ,and that does not affect the world economy which grew by 3%.The IEA refers this to the changing patterns of energy consumption in some countries as China . in addition, China CO2 emissions decreased 1 percent in 2014 while its economy increased by 7.4 percent.Also, OECD countries’ their CO2 emissions decreased by 4 % while their economies grew almost 7 % .
    hopefully,all countries contribute in reducing CO2 emission by using renewable energy so we have cleaner climate for now and future

  3. Asma says:

    Regarding to the report of The International Energy Agency in 2014 The Energy-related carbon dioxide emissions was steady globally ,and that does not affect the world economy which grew by 3%.The IEA refers this to the changing patterns of energy consumption in some countries as China . in addition, China CO2 emissions decreased 1 percent in 2014 while its economy increased by 7.4 percent.Also, OECD countries’ their CO2 emissions decreased by 4 % while their economies grew almost 7 % .
    hopefully,all countries contribute in reducing CO2 emission by using renewable energy so we have cleaner climate for now and future.

  4. Fatimah Alrashdi says:

    according to IEA announcement, showing that CO2 emissions remained steady at 32.3 billion metric in 2014 for the first time in 40 years which was decoupling from economic growth for the first time in 40 years, it’s considered a positive news for the humankind future. I like the statement of Birol that said “This gives me even more hope that humankind will be able to work together to combat climate change, the most important threat facing us today,” these indicators gave us motivation for more efforts to get better future. IEA analyzes that stability in co2 emissions to changing patterns of energy for example, in China there was a noticeable greater generation of electricity from renewable sources, such as wind, solar and wind, and less burning of coal. In November, China announced it will peak CO2 emissions by 2030 and increase the share of non-fossil energy sources to at least 20 percent also by that year. In the meantime, the government appears on target to meet a pledge it made in 2009 to reduce CO2 emissions per unit of gross domestic product by 40 to 45 percent by 2020. hopefully, all countries can reduce emissions and tend to use renewable energy instead of fossil fuels and burning of coal. that would make the climate better and economic growth too.

  5. Priscilla Naraine says:

    In an effort to reduce greenhouse emissions, China is now using renewable sources such as hydropower, solar and wind in order to generate electricity and burn less coal. However, according to the recent group presentation, wind energy can cause noise disturbances resulting in people having migraines and health problems. Therefore, even though one year has lead to a steady rate of greenhouse emissions, many improvements have to be made as people are stating this is not a trendsetter. Thus, climate change plays a major role in our economic policy. Therefore, we need to make changes that can adapt to their climate and financial needs.

    Currently, only Germany and India are moderate in CO2 emitters. Although Indonesia, Brazil, United States, and China are poor in CO2 emitters, the main concern lines in Japan, Korea, Russian Federation, Canada. Hopefully, the Paris meeting in December can allow these eight countries or states to make changes in their climate change policy in order to adapt for the future to come.

  6. Jack Edelman says:

    While climate change/global warming is certain something we have to be worried about, as a geology student I want to mention that NOT ALL scientists are worried about greenhouse gas emissions being the true CAUSE of global warming. Based on our current data, we have evidence that the Earth undergoes natural periods of climate change—warming and cooling. At one point in geologic history the atmosphere was about 18 degrees warmer than it is today, and this is way before mankind ever even existed. Just a couple of hundred years ago, the northern hemisphere experienced a “little ice age”, where the climate was much colder than today. So while we need to definitely study and worry about global warming, we should also realize that climate change is a natural process of our planet.

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