The Economist reported on 24 February 2019 that industrial carbon emissions did not rise in 2019. It feels like an achievement, a break from pessimistic climate change news that we read daily.
The announcement of a plateau of emissions last year is tied to Amazon’s owner Jeff Bezos who is poised to invest US$10 billion for a philanthropic foundation aimed at fighting climate change, according to the article. Perhaps a ‘greenwashing’ effort to offset balance out emissions from his giant retail company, The Economist article says.
What is the source of this good news?
According to Dr Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency (IEA), global carbon dioxide emissions, last year remained unchanged at 33 gigatons while the economy grew by 2.9% (Global CO2, 2020).
This plateau is a result of declining emission from electricity generation in developed countries as they switch to renewables like wind and solar, switching from coal to natural gas, and higher nuclear power generation (Defying expectations, 2020).
Dr Birol says that “we need to work hard to make sure that 2019 is remembered as a definitive peak in global emissions, not just another pause in growth”.
This statement could be a warning in some sense because as advanced economies like the US, European Union, and Japan continues to see a reduction in emissions due to power-efficient technologies, shift to renewables, and decreasing use of coal in electricity generation, developing economies in Asia are still highly dependent on coal (Storrow, 2020).
The United States records a fall in emission at 140 million tonnes or 2.9%, the European Union fell by 160 million tonnes or 5% with their switch to natural gas to produce electricity, Japan emissions fell by 45 million tonnes or at 4%. Emission reductions by these developed countries even if added altogether still needs a bit more to offset the 400 million tonnes emitted by the rest of the world at almost 80% increase from coal-fired power generation (Defying expectations, 2020).
The International Energy Agency (IEA) also showed the global emissions trend for both the advanced economies and the rest of the world in a graph; the regional trends showing decline in emissions, their shift from coal to renewables in regions like the US, EU, Germany, UK, Japan, China and India; and the electricity generation and power section C02 emissions in advance economies.
Storrow (2020) pointed out that although there is an emissions reduction in the energy sector, there are still other places that CO2 and other gases are emitted like emissions from wildfires in the Amazon and Australia, from the transportation sector, natural gas usage, and methane emissions or leaks.
How about emissions from the production of services?
Gernot Wagner of New York University said that the global shift in production of supplies makes production emissions from developed countries look good. Giant companies like Apple and Volvo have moved their production plants elsewhere in the world.
So, who takes responsibility for its emissions? Wagner thoughts it’s down to the consumers. Because carbon emissions are global in scope, carbon emissions around the world need to reach net-zero to reduce C02 concentrations to sustainable levels (Storrow, 2020).
A reason for optimism
The fact that emissions from the electricity did not rise last year shows that efforts done to reduce emissions are paying off and it’s a reason to be optimistic and motivated to continue activities that reduce emissions. As Dr Birol says, this welcome halt in emissions is grounds of optimism that we can tackle the climate challenge this decade, it is evidence that clean energy transitions are underway.. and signal that we have the opportunity to meaningfully move the needle on emissions through more ambitious policies and investments” (Defying expectations, 2020).
To support these objectives the IEA will publish a Special Report in June that will detail how to cut global energy-based emissions by one-third and to keep on track to meet long-term climate goals (Defying expectations, 2020).
This development is a great encouragement for all and especially those engaged in climate change advocacy programs. Indeed, the worldwide effort that governments, business establishments, and not-for-profit organisations do to curb carbon emissions has shown positive results.