Global carbon emissions are projected to stall in 2015, according to researchers at the University of East Anglia and the Global Carbon Project. Last year global CO2 emissions from fossil fuels and industry grew by just 0.6 per cent – marking a year-on-year slow down. The projection for 2015 reveals a second year of slow growth or even a small decrease in global emissions.
The research reveals that emissions could decline by 0.6 per cent this year. While declines in emissions have previously occurred during periods of economic crisis, this would be the first decline during a period of strong global economic growth.
Prof Corinne Le Quéré, Director of the Tyndall Centre at UEA who led the data analysis, said: “These figures are certainly not typical of the growth trajectory seen since 2000 – where the annual growth in emissions was between 2 and 3 per cent.
“What we are now seeing is that emissions appear to have stalled, and they could even decline slightly in 2015.
“But it is important to remember that our projection for 2015 is an estimate and there will always be a range of uncertainty. In this case, the 2015 projection ranges from a global decline in emissions of up to 1.6 per cent – or at the other end of the spectrum, a small rise of 0.5 per cent.”
The projection for 2015 is based on available energy consumption data in China and the US, and on forecast economic growth for the rest of the world.
Prof Le Quéré said: “The projected decline is largely down to China’s decreased coal use, driven by its economic adjustment.
“Whether a slower growth in global emissions will be sustained depends on the use of coal in China and elsewhere, and where new energy will come from. In 2014, more than half of new energy needs in China were met from renewable sources such as hydro, nuclear, wind, and solar power.”
The research shows the biggest contributors to global emissions in 2014 were China (27 per cent), the United States (15 per cent), the European Union (10 per cent), and India (7 per cent).
Prof Robert Jackson of Stanford University who led the Nature Climate Change Commentary, said: “We saw slower global growth in petroleum in2014 and faster growth in renewables. Wind and solar capacities saw record increases in capacity last year and are on track to be even higher in 2015.”
Prof Le Quéré added: “With two years of untypical emissions growth, it looks like the trajectory of global emissions might have changed temporarily. It is unlikely that emissions have peaked for good. This is because energy needs for growing economies still rely primarily on coal, and emissions decreases in some industrial countries are still modest at best.
“Global emissions need to decrease to near zero to achieve climate stabilisation. We are still emitting massive amounts of CO2 annually – around 36 billion tonnes from fossil fuels and industry alone. There is a long way to near zero emissions.
“Today’s news is encouraging, but world leaders at COP21 need to agree on the substantial emission reductions needed to keep warming below two degrees Celsius.
“And despite the slowing of CO2 emissions globally, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has now reached 400 parts per million, its highest level in at least 800,000 years.”
‘Reaching Peak Emissions’ is published in Nature Climate Change on December 7, 2015.
‘Global Carbon Budget 2015’ is published in Earth System Science Data.
HEADLINE STATS BY COUNTRY
China was the biggest emitter of CO2 in 2014, releasing 9.7 billion tonnes (27 per cent of the world total).
Emissions from china will strongly influence the global emissions over the next decade.
After rising 6.7 per cent per year for the previous decade, China’s emissions growth slowed to 1.2 per cent in 2014 and is expected to decrease in 2015.
China’s decreased coal use largely accounts for the break in global emissions growth in 2014 and 2015.
China, the world’s largest wind-energy producer, installed 23 GW of new wind capacity last year alone.
China’s emissions per capita are 7.1 tonnes – compared to 17.4 tonnes per capita in the US, 6.8 tonnes per capita in the EU, and 2.0 tonnes per capita in India.
The US was the second biggest emitter of CO2 in 2014, releasing 5.6 billion tonnes (15 per cent of the world total).
Emissions in the US have declined by 1.4 per cent annually over the last decade. This decline is projected to continue through 2015.
The US produces 17.4 tonnes of CO2 per capita each year.
The EU was the third biggest emitter of CO2 in 2014, releasing 3.4 billion tonnes (10 per cent of the world total).
The EU is the region with the strongest decline in emissions – averaging 2.4 per cent per year in the past decade.
The decline in emissions in the EU of 210 MtCO2 in 2014 was the same size as the increase in emissions in India of 205 MtCO2.
Although outsourcing of emissions to emerging economies played a substantive role in early reductions, emissions transfers via trade from the EU to China and elsewhere have declined since 2007.
The EU produces 6.8 tonnes of CO2 per capita each year.
India was the fourth biggest emitter of CO2 in 2014, releasing 2.6 billion tonnes (7.2 per cent of the world total).
India’s emissions today match those of China in 1990.
The increase in emissions in India of 205 MtCO2 was the same size as the decline in emissions in the EU of 210 MtCO2 in 2014.
Per capita emissions continue to be well below the global average at 2.0 tonnes of CO2 each year.
India’s challenge is the need to provide 1.3 billion people with greater access to energy.
If present trends persist, India’s emissions will match those of the EU in 2-3 years.
For global CO2 emissions to peak and decline quickly, part of India’s new energy needs must come from low-carbon technologies.
The UK released 0.43 billion tonnes of CO2 in 2014 (1.2 per cent of the world total).
UK emissions decreased by 9 per cent in 2014 and are now 28 per cent below 1990 levels. Emissions from the consumption of goods and services produced elsewhere has started to decrease, after rising during the period 1990-2007.
Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?
Technologists, engineers, lawmakers, and the general public have been excitedly debating about the merits of self-driving cars for the past several years, as companies like Waymo and Uber race to get the first fully autonomous vehicles on the market. Largely, the concerns have been about safety and ethics; is a self-driving car really capable of eliminating the human errors responsible for the majority of vehicular accidents? And if so, who’s responsible for programming life-or-death decisions, and who’s held liable in the event of an accident?
But while these questions continue being debated, protecting people on an individual level, it’s worth posing a different question: how will self-driving cars impact the environment?
The Big Picture
The Department of Energy attempted to answer this question in clear terms, using scientific research and existing data sets to project the short-term and long-term environmental impact that self-driving vehicles could have. Its findings? The emergence of self-driving vehicles could essentially go either way; it could reduce energy consumption in transportation by as much as 90 percent, or increase it by more than 200 percent.
That’s a margin of error so wide it might as well be a total guess, but there are too many unknown variables to form a solid conclusion. There are many ways autonomous vehicles could influence our energy consumption and environmental impact, and they could go well or poorly, depending on how they’re adopted.
One of the big selling points of autonomous vehicles is their capacity to reduce the total number of vehicles—and human drivers—on the road. If you’re able to carpool to work in a self-driving vehicle, or rely on autonomous public transportation, you’ll spend far less time, money, and energy on your own car. The convenience and efficiency of autonomous vehicles would therefore reduce the total miles driven, and significantly reduce carbon emissions.
There’s a flip side to this argument, however. If autonomous vehicles are far more convenient and less expensive than previous means of travel, it could be an incentive for people to travel more frequently, or drive to more destinations they’d otherwise avoid. In this case, the total miles driven could actually increase with the rise of self-driving cars.
As an added consideration, the increase or decrease in drivers on the road could result in more or fewer vehicle collisions, respectively—especially in the early days of autonomous vehicle adoption, when so many human drivers are still on the road. Car accident injury cases, therefore, would become far more complicated, and the roads could be temporarily less safe.
Deadheading is a term used in trucking and ridesharing to refer to miles driven with an empty load. Assume for a moment that there’s a fleet of self-driving vehicles available to pick people up and carry them to their destinations. It’s a convenient service, but by necessity, these vehicles will spend at least some of their time driving without passengers, whether it’s spent waiting to pick someone up or en route to their location. The increase in miles from deadheading could nullify the potential benefits of people driving fewer total miles, or add to the damage done by their increased mileage.
Make and Model of Car
Much will also depend on the types of cars equipped to be self-driving. For example, Waymo recently launched a wave of self-driving hybrid minivans, capable of getting far better mileage than a gas-only vehicle. If the majority of self-driving cars are electric or hybrids, the environmental impact will be much lower than if they’re converted from existing vehicles. Good emissions ratings are also important here.
On the other hand, the increased demand for autonomous vehicles could put more pressure on factory production, and make older cars obsolete. In that case, the gas mileage savings could be counteracted by the increased environmental impact of factory production.
The Bottom Line
Right now, there are too many unanswered questions to make a confident determination whether self-driving vehicles will help or harm the environment. Will we start driving more, or less? How will they handle dead time? What kind of models are going to be on the road?
Engineers and the general public are in complete control of how this develops in the near future. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see all the safety benefits of having autonomous vehicles on the road, but without any of the extra environmental impact to deal with.
New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035
New Zealand’s prime minister-elect Jacinda Ardern is already taking steps towards reducing the country’s carbon footprint. She signed a coalition deal with NZ First in October, aiming to generate 100% of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2035.
New Zealand is already one of the greenest countries in the world, sourcing over 80% of its energy for its 4.7 million people from renewable resources like hydroelectric, geothermal and wind. The majority of its electricity comes from hydro-power, which generated 60% of the country’s energy in 2016. Last winter, renewable generation peaked at 93%.
Now, Ardern is taking on the challenge of eliminating New Zealand’s remaining use of fossil fuels. One of the biggest obstacles will be filling in the gap left by hydropower sources during dry conditions. When lake levels drop, the country relies on gas and coal to provide energy. Eliminating fossil fuels will require finding an alternative source to avoid spikes in energy costs during droughts.
Business NZ’s executive director John Carnegie told Bloomberg he believes Ardern needs to balance her goals with affordability, stating, “It’s completely appropriate to have a focus on reducing carbon emissions, but there needs to be an open and transparent public conversation about the policies and how they are delivered.”
The coalition deal outlined a few steps towards achieving this, including investing more in solar, which currently only provides 0.1% of the country’s energy. Ardern’s plans also include switching the electricity grid to renewable energy, investing more funds into rail transport, and switching all government vehicles to green fuel within a decade.
Zero net emissions by 2050
Beyond powering the country’s electricity grid with 100% green energy, Ardern also wants to reach zero net emissions by 2050. This ambitious goal is very much in line with her focus on climate change throughout the course of her campaign. Environmental issues were one of her top priorities from the start, which increased her appeal with young voters and helped her become one of the youngest world leaders at only 37.
Reaching zero net emissions would require overcoming challenging issues like eliminating fossil fuels in vehicles. Ardern hasn’t outlined a plan for reaching this goal, but has suggested creating an independent commission to aid in the transition to a lower carbon economy.
She also set a goal of doubling the number of trees the country plants per year to 100 million, a goal she says is “absolutely achievable” using land that is marginal for farming animals.
Greenpeace New Zealand climate and energy campaigner Amanda Larsson believes that phasing out fossil fuels should be a priority for the new prime minister. She says that in order to reach zero net emissions, Ardern “must prioritize closing down coal, putting a moratorium on new fossil fuel plants, building more wind infrastructure, and opening the playing field for household and community solar.”
A worldwide shift to renewable energy
Addressing climate change is becoming more of a priority around the world and many governments are assessing how they can reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and switch to environmentally-friendly energy sources. Sustainable energy is becoming an increasingly profitable industry, giving companies more of an incentive to invest.
Ardern isn’t alone in her climate concerns, as other prominent world leaders like Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron have made renewable energy a focus of their campaigns. She isn’t the first to set ambitious goals, either. Sweden and Norway share New Zealand’s goal of net zero emissions by 2045 and 2030, respectively.
Scotland already sources more than half of its electricity from renewable sources and aims to fully transition by 2020, while France announced plans in September to stop fossil fuel production by 2040. This would make it the first country to do so, and the first to end the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles.
Many parts of the world still rely heavily on coal, but if these countries are successful in phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable resources, it could serve as a turning point. As other world leaders see that switching to sustainable energy is possible – and profitable – it could be the start of a worldwide shift towards environmentally-friendly energy.
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