Last month the International Energy Agency reported that 2014 was ”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.” It looks like, globally, we’re finally turning the corner in the fight against global warming.
As the IEA looks toward forging a new global climate deal in Paris this December, their next Executive Director Fatih Birol announced that “For the first time, greenhouse gas emissions are decoupling from economic growth.” While this is only the fourth time that CO2 emissions have flatlined or dropped from the previous year it is the first time this has not happened during a time of global economic weakness (early 1980’s, 1992 and 2009).
“For the first time, greenhouse gas emissions are decoupling from economic growth.” Fatih BirolGlobal emissions of carbon dioxide stood at 32.3 billion tonnes in 2014, the same figure as 2013. There is growing belief that the commitment and efforts to mitigate climate change may be starting to have a greater effect on reducing global emissions than had previously been thought.
Several factors have been pointed to as helping control last year’s carbon output, particularly the changing patterns of energy consumption in China and OECD countries.
In 2014 Chinese coal consumption fell by 2.9 percent, the first drop this century. This was aided by an expansion in clean energy production and the shutting of their dirtiest power plants. In addition, China is aggressively embracing greater energy efficiency, such as wide scale adoption of LED lighting technology. China’s total CO2 emissions fell by 1 percent even as their economy grew by 7.4 percent.
Worldwide we’re seeing homes utilizing far more energy efficient fridges, stoves, lighting, and more. Businesses are following suit with investments in energy efficiency. This has lead to many countries beginning to see a decline in energy use on both a per capita basis but also in relation to GDP.
Cars are also continuing to be cleaner and more efficient while many countries are pricing carbon using economic forces to make it more costly to release into the atmosphere. In North America there is a continued move away from coal-fired power generation and an increase in the investment in gas-fired electricity generation.
Globally we’re seeing more and more investment in power generation from renewable energy sources such as hydropower, solar and wind.
All of this has contributed to us finally seeing a decoupling in the relationship between economic growth and greenhouse gas emissions. “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.
“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,”Maria van der HoevenThose thoughts are echoed by environmental watchdog organizations who remain concerned that emissions are still far too high. There is a push toward a global warming limit of 2°C, but many observers believe that this will still be disastrous. Currently, we’re on the course for a 6°C rise in global temperatures – a figure that has been deemed to be potentially catastrophic. Many scientists are saying that a rise of 1°C is the highest we should allow. Anything greater is projected to have a widespread negative impact on huge human populations and major planetary ecosystems.
We’re on the right track, but this is only the beginning. Global warming presents a clear and present danger to our planet, evidenced in the changing weather patterns we’re seeing. Energy efficiency, renewable energy sources and responsible energy consumption should be our goal at home and in business. In 2014 we turned the corner with the decoupling of economic growth from greenhouse gas emissions. Now, let’s all do our part to start driving emissions down and leaving a cleaner, better planet for future generations.