Why I’m Not So Jubilant About This Much Celebrated Climate Change News

Posted on March 26, 2015 in Environment

By Anjali Nambissan:

Emissions from burning fossil fuels for supplying energy to the world stabilised over the period of 2013 and 2014. While the world breathes a collective sigh of relief (and Co2), I’m still cautious…

air pollution

Last week, a much celebrated piece of news fell through the cracks of public imagination. The International Energy Agency released a statement which said that global Co2 emissions from fossil fuel used for energy generation for the year 2013 and 2014 remained the same. For the first time in 40 years, says the 29-member (countries) global energy consultancy, carbon emissions have stalled or fallen without a corresponding economic downturn.

Global Co2 emissions from fossil fuels stood still at 32.3 billion tonnes in 2013 and 2014. “This is both a very welcome surprise and a significant one,” said IEA Chief Economist Fatih Birol, in a statement, “It provides much-needed momentum to negotiators preparing to forge a global climate deal in Paris in December: for the first time, greenhouse gas emissions are decoupling from economic growth.”

The IEA attributes this ‘reduction’ to China’s move, away from fossil fuels to power its burgeoning economy and population. Remember how bad China’s air pollution got over 2013-14 and even now, well into 2015? Watch this; it might jog your memory. Co2 emissions dipped only three times before this – during the US recession in the 1980s, when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1992 and when our financial markets crashed in 2009. In contrast, in 2014, the world economy grew by 3%.

The green news media has turned this development into definitive good news, with The Telegraph’s Geoffrey Lean calling this ‘new reason to hope’, surmising that human beings may be looking to turn away from coal-powered development.

At the risk of sounding like a cynical nay-sayer, I’m not so jubilant about this news.

Firstly, stagnation in Co2 emissions is not the same as a reduction. And these are just preliminary findings of the IEA. A more detailed report on global Co2 emission, with an analysis of national pledges for Co2 reductions with regard to falling fuel prices and an advisory on climate goals is in the offing, due in June 2015. This is the report I’m waiting to see as it should set the tone for the Paris climate deal in December 2015. I really hope IEA doesn’t jump the gun then, like it did right now. Though incoming IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven is right to caution the world about how, “this is no time for complacency – and certainly not the time to use this positive news as an excuse to stall further action”.

The Chinese Smoke Screen

The fulcrum of IEA’s emissions enthusiasm is China’s lowered reliance on coal to power its large manufacturing industry. But this is again premature.

In what BBC analyst, Michael Bristow, callsrare admissions for a Chinese official’, Zheng Guogang, the chief at China’s meteorological agency, said that China experiences higher temperature rise than the rest of the world due to its copious amounts of Co2.

Though the Chinese government shut down coal power plants and mines, this was more a reaction to the high levels of air pollution that its cities and towns were shrouded in. China’s emissions are set to peak in 2030. And the world’s largest emitter of CO2 has not laid out any specific reduction targets.

Calling out Climate Action

Whether we agree or disagree on the fact that this IEA news is a big deal or not, we all agree that what has been set out as climate action for the upcoming talks in Paris, is not enough.  Co2 accumulates in the atmosphere for centuries, even if we keep emissions at a stable level, our planet will still get too hot. For measurable reductions, more investment in renewables and a divestment in fossil fuels are the only ways out. Thoughts?