Climate Photo of the Week
World carbon dioxide emissions did not increase in 2014 even though economies grew, a surprising and encouraging early report says; but Europe’s leading role in long-term limits on greenhouse pollution is questioned by another study.
The world got an encouraging report this month as it prepares for a possible first all-nation climate change agreement in the fall — "global emissions of carbon dioxide from the energy sector stalled in 2014,” said the International Energy Agency (IEA), "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.” CO2 pollution had been increasing by two percent or more over recent years, except in years of economic troubles like the Great Recession in 2009. The IEA said world economy grew by about three percent in 2014.
The IEA attributed the leveling off of emissions to "efforts to mitigate climate change” which "may be having a more pronounced effect on emissions than had previously been thought.” Policies like “changing patterns of energy consumption in China and OECD countries,” were mentioned in the report. "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.” Separating — “decoupling" — the sources and uses of energy from the pollution of fossil fuels is the prime policy goal of the international climate change convention.
The IEA announcement was made well in advance of its yearly world energy report, due out in November and a special report on energy and climate to be released in June. Its emissions numbers vary a bit from the other main carbon pollution reporting agency, the Global Carbon Project (GCP). The GCP said in its September 2014 report on 2013 emissions that "Emissions are projected to increase by a further 2.5% in 2014.” It remains to be seen if the leveling off in 2014 in the IEA analysis will also be seen by the GCP in their report due out this September.
This news of an unexpected short-term reduction in CO2 emissions growth came just after a new report from the European Environmental Agency (EEA) warned that Europe may not achieve the deep reductions in greenhouse emissions by mid-century which the EU has targeted and which scientists say are needed. The EEA called into question the capability of EU's world-leading energy and climate policy, such as Germany’s wide adoption of solar power, to prevent the worst effects of runaway climate change. Europe’s current policies are a model which may be followed by many nations as they set solid goals for emission cuts toward an all-nation agreement later this year at United Nations climate negotiations in Paris. Germany, whose policy of solar, wind and biogas encouragement is the most aggressive, is one of the EU nations falling short of even shorter term goals.
Similar goals are expected to be repeated by many countries this year, on the road to Paris. With its famous glaciers receding rapidly, Switzerland on February 25 become the first nation to formally promise to the United Nations Convention on Climate Change its contribution to an international agreement to hold off disastrous climate change. It is a small start for this urgent process – Switzerland makes only one-tenth of one percent of world greenhouse emissions — but its pledge set intermediate goals leading to emissions cuts of 70-85% by 2050 compared to 1990 levels.
In the year-long preparation for a comprehensive international climate change treaty to be negotiated in Paris this fall, the United Nations has asked all countries to clearly pledge before October 1 how much they will reduce emissions in the coming decades. The UN will then estimate how close the pledges will come to averting the severe disruptions to natural processes that scientists say are coming if the world does not rapidly slow almost all emissions from fossil fuels and land use. The reductions promised will guide the Paris talks toward an agreement.
“Averting the severe disruptions” means keeping the earth average surface temperature below 3.6 degrees F (2 degrees C) warmer than it was before coal and oil began fueling the industrial revolution in the mid 18th century. Detailed reports issued by the scientists of the UN climate panel (IPCC) last year made it clear that keeping under this limit requires “substantial emissions reductions over the next few decades and near zero emissions of CO2 and other long-lived [greenhouse gases] by the end of the century.” The national goals of 75 to 90 percent reductions by 2050 reflect a pathway toward near zero.
Near zero. In such a short time can the world change so much of its power sources, now 85 percent fossil fuels, the very power that brought civilization to this point of progress and peril? Detailed reports say, yes, yes, and yes, it can be done, and with substantial improvements to health and well being for billions of people. And as Joe Romm and others have detailed, if we begin strong action now the probable cost is a small reduction in economic growth — and a large savings over the cost of dealing with severe climate disruptions. The “healthy reductions” in emissions will be very hard to accomplish as the European report reflects, given vast infrastructure and technical challenges and the bullheaded and well funded inertia of many industries and politicians.
Politics aside (which in the United States would be a great advancement), the near future can be seen in these clean energy reports and the currently working examples of renewable power and efficiencies. World View of Global Warming will be looking into this great challenge – and seeing the future today – in coming months this year.
(Note: For a semi-technical discussion why the “2 degree C” temperature limit is important and why it came to be accepted at the Cancun international climate talks in 2010, please see RealClimate.org)
15 years of World View of Global Warming, documenting climate change 1999-2015
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For other information about Gary Braasch's climate change projects and books, please see the books Earth Under Fire and How We Know What We Know About Our Changing Climate, and the exhibit "Climate Change in Our World" at the Books and Exhibits link on the top menu of this page.
Photography and text Copyright © 2005 - 2015 (and before) Gary Braasch All rights reserved. Use of photographs in any manner without permission is prohibited by US copyright law. Photography is available for license to publications and other uses. Please contact email@example.com. View more of Gary Braasch's photography here.