In 2013, China’s per capita CO2 emissions surpassed Europe’s for the first time ever. In addition, China represented nearly 60% of last year’s total global emissions increase. As a result, the longterm goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees appears increasingly elusive, warns a Global Carbon Project (GCP) report published on 21 September.
Industrialized nations are chiefly responsible for global warming, and should make the greatest contribution to emission cuts, argues the Asian powerhouse.
Thus, China independently set its own targets, such as a 40-45% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions per unit of GDP by 2020.
Nevertheless, it still consumes about half of the world’s thermal coal, according to a Carbon Tracker report. GCP found that coal burning remained the main source (43%) of global emissions in 2013.
Hurray for Europe?
Meanwhile, Europe was the only key region that registered a drop in emissions in 2013. It released 11% less pollutants in the atmosphere than the prior year, thus modestly compensating for increases in other regions.
Europe’s emissions decline should not be cause for celebration since it is largely attributed to the economic downturn. Historically, financial crises have had little lasting effect on emissions, according to GCP data. Further, GDP and carbon intensity trends are relatively stable over time, leading to stable emission growth.
Thus, GCP forecasts a 2.5% emissions increase in 2014, slightly above last year’s 2.3%, and steady yearly increases would “likely” lead to a 3.2-5.4 degrees rise in the world’s temperature by 2100.
This is significantly above the 2 degrees threshold when, according to international institutions such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), global warming would inflict the most dangerous damage to the planet.
It’s all coal’s fault
Opinions diverge on the likelihood of the most catastrophic scenarios and the role coal would play in them. According to Carbon Tracker, global coal demand will peak by 2016, coinciding with a peak in China’s domestic thermal coal consumption.
Slowing GDP growth, the structural transformation of China from a heavy industry to a service economy, and an aggressive programme of energy efficiency and energy source diversification would reduce the share of coal in power generation from 76.1% in 2013 to 55.8% by 2020, thus slowing emissions growth.
But even if coal was entirely removed from global power generation, the 2 degree threshold would still be breached, warns a separate report from the Climate Action Tracker. Global warming would not be so severe though if coal is mostly replaced by renewables rather than gas.
Speaking today at the opening ceremony of the United Nations Climate Summit, IPCC Chairman Rajendra K. Pachauri will say: “We are told that limiting climate change will be too expensive. It will not. But wait until you get the bill for inaction. There are costs of taking action – but they are nothing compared to the cost of inaction.”