Global CO2 emissions continue to rise, reaching 33.4 Billion tons last year. Yet, many will be startled to learn that America easily leads the world in reducing CO2 output. Our reduction of 794 million tons over the past decade is a 1.4% annual rate of decrease. The Shale Revolution has certainly helped, although U.S. CO2 emissions in 2005, long before Shale started to have its positive impact. Improved energy efficiency is one reason. More recently, cheap natural gas, combined with regulatory constraints on coal-burning utilities, have favorably altered the mix of hydrocarbons burned to produce electricity. Regrettably, the Trump Administration’s weakening of Obama-era coal constraints will moderate this positive trend.
Another surprise is that the UK managed the second biggest ten-year drop in CO2 emissions, at 170 million tons. This represents a 3.5% annual reduction rate, easily the best for any big country. Lower coal use is similarly the cause here, caused by exhaustion of commercially accessible coal reserves.
The 2015 Paris climate accord represents the world’s desire to combat climate change through reduced greenhouse gas emissions. The U.S. withdrew from it last year. The Climate Action Network, an EU-sponsored NGO, finds that only five EU members are even halfway on track to meeting their obligations under the Paris accord. Some of the most vocal Paris supporters have been the biggest laggards.
For example, Germany has famously managed to be a leader in renewables while failing to lead in emission reductions. Heavy dependence on solar and wind requires baseload electricity generation for when it’s not sunny or windy. In Germany, that’s primary coal (see It’s Not Easy Being Green). As an unfortunate consequence, Germany plans to increase its reliance on Russian natural gas via the Nord Stream 2 project.
Spain, Italy, and Greece have all managed very credible 2-3% annual reductions in CO2 emissions. However, this is due to chronically weak economies: over the past decade, Spain has managed only one-quarter of GDP growth above 1% and Italy none, while Greece has been in economic purgatory. By constraining growth in southern Europe, the Euro has been environmentalists’ most effective tool.
China produces 28% of the world’s CO2 emissions, spewing out 9.2 Billion tons which are 50% more than second-placed America. This is almost four times India’s emissions level, even though they have similarly sized populations. However, India is catching up, with a CO2 growth rate twice China’s.
Over the past decade, China’s increased CO2 output of 2.02 Billion tons was 60% of the global increase. Clearly, lowering CO2 won’t happen without China’s help. That will require reconciling conflicting objectives: developing countries are striving to achieve developed country living standards and longevity, which requires more energy use. Developed country advocates of reduced emissions are, in effect, seeking to slow this progress.
Thoughtful advocacy of renewables recognizes the symbiosis with natural gas in providing reliable electricity generation. The purity of thought required of renewables advocates has them rejecting even those fossil fuels that can help achieve lower overall emissions. Few would enjoy a world in which the Sierra Club had achieved all its goals.
Fossil fuels aren’t equally bad. Electricity generated by burning natural gas results in around half the CO2 output as does coal, and far less damaging particulates. Some may be surprised to learn that investing in fossil fuel infrastructure can be consistent with desiring a cleaner planet. But that’s where your blogging team sits, occupying the lonely, pragmatic middle ground and advocating natural gas as an environmental solution.
Source: Forbes | 23 August 2018