A new global warming report undercuts arguments advanced by environmental activists that global economic growth is no longer dependent on carbon dioxide emissions, and has changed the world’s emission trajectory.
The Global Carbon Project’s report on global greenhouse gas emissions found the emissions increased 2 percent from 2016, breaking the reported three-year lull in global emissions growth. Emissions are expected to grow even more in 2018.
“This is the result of higher energy demand, particularly from the industrial sector, along with a decline in hydro-power use because of below-average rainfall,” wrote the report’s authors.
“China’s coal consumption grew by 3%, while oil (5%) and gas (12%) continued rising,” they added. “The 2017 growth may result from economic stimulus from the Chinese government, and may not continue in the years ahead.”
Environmentalists, pundits and politicians pointed to three years of flat emissions data as proof the world’s, mostly China’s, global warming trajectory had changed, namely that emissions have become “decoupled” from economic growth.
The idea is that increased green energy and natural gas use has “decoupled” gross domestic product (GDP) growth from necessitating increases in carbon dioxide emissions. Even the International Energy Agency and World Economic Forum parroted this line, using it to bolster support for the Paris climate accord.
But that really hasn’t happened.
“There is a gap between rhetoric and reality on this issue,” University of Colorado professor Roger Pielke, Jr. told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
Pielke pointed out that actual experts on global emissions and energy policy did not believe “the world’s carbon trajectory had changed,” as New York Times reporter Hiroko Tabuchi claimed. Small changes in the emissions to GDP ratio don’t mean much if your goal is to fight man-made global warming.
Pielke’s own work has shown there’s a long road ahead if countries actually want to reduce global emissions. He co-authored a 2008 study pointing out the United Nations “decarbonization” estimates were grossly off base.
In fact, a recent study by University of Oxford researchers reaffirmed Pielke’s 2008 study. They found emissions intensity “rose in the first part of the 21st century despite all major climate projections foreseeing a decline.”
The U.S. and other developed countries have reduced carbon dioxide emissions, but those reductions are dwarfed by increases in countries like China and India. And that’s on top of the 1.1 billion people who still lack access to electricity.
While economic growth can outpace emissions growth, the fact that most of the global economy is powered by fossil fuels means the two will likely be tied together at varying levels.
Not long ago, Pielke put into perspective what needs to be done to truly claim emissions had “decoupled” from economic growth.
But if your goal is stabilization of CO2 in the atmosphere, emissions reductions from coal—>gas are Pyrrhic.
Does not move dial on carbon-free energy. pic.twitter.com/fhDyS7ZSze
— Roger Pielke Jr. (@RogerPielkeJr) November 7, 2017
But that’s only part of the issue with global emissions accounting.
Another major issue not touched on by the Global Carbon Project’s report is the accuracy of global emissions figures.
Experts do their best to approximate what global emissions are, but those estimates are only as good as the figures they are based off. The BBC has a series highlighting the “flaws” in global emissions accounting.
BBC found countries don’t always record all of the greenhouse gas emissions they pump into the atmosphere, highlighting the example of China, the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter.
BBC also highlighted the uncertainties in measuring methane emissions from livestock production, noting “uncertainties with methane emissions in Russia, of between 30-40%, according to scientists who work there.”
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