Peak Carbon Emissions



‘When will global Co2 emissions peak?’ and ‘How fast will they decline?’ These are two questions that are of critical importance to all of our futures. Neither question can yet be definitively answered. However the top graph seems to suggest that this year might have seen emissions peak. If so it is the best Christmas present anyone could possibly have.

In a very good article Brad Plumer argues that it is perhaps too early to celebrate. These encouraging figures may yet prove to be a blip, and that emissions will rise until 2030, as many governments seem to believe. However as the bottom graph shows if emissions peak this late, as per the Paris pledges, the chances of keeping global temperature increase to below 2 degrees Centigrade would be vanishingly small.

The small decrease this year seems largely due to China’s apparent declining coal use. That may be a blip or the start of a long term decline. I tend to be optimistic on this issue, given China’s increasing investments in energy efficiency and renewables. Emissions are falling in most advanced industrialized countries but are expected to rise rapidly in a number of newly industrializing countries, notably India, Turkey, Indonesia, Mexico, South Africa and the Philippines. These half dozen countries, along with many others, are all planning building more coal fired power stations. They may find that renewables are already a cheaper option, and certainly a better option with more long term security. Each of these six countries has huge renewable energy potential. It will be both in the interests of each of them and the global community that they develop this potential as quickly as possible. If they and the rest of us invest sensibly in the best mix of renewables and efficiency measures we could see global emissions fall again in 2016, and continue to fall all the way to zero over the next twenty to twenty-five years. And that really would be something to celebrate!

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