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This Report Card for Global Carbon Dioxide Emissions Is Not Encouraging

Background: The International Energy Agency (IEA) issued its assessment, “Global Energy and CO2 Status Report, 2017” (Report) on March 22, 2018. The IEA reviews aspects of global energy use and greenhouse gas emission rates annually. This schedule has become even more important since the Paris Climate Agreement among virtually all nations of the world was concluded, under the auspices of the United Nations-sponsored organization, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in December 2015.

The essence of the Paris Agreement is first, setting the goal of keeping the global average increase in temperature, measured from the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, under 2°C (3.8°F), and second, having every nation individually commit voluntarily to embark on its own program to reduce annual emission rates for CO2 to achieve the temperature objective.

The emissions originate from humanity’s burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas) to provide energy for buildings, industry, and transportation. An analysis of those promised emission rates, however, showed that they were inadequate to limit the global temperature rise as intended.

The Report finds that, for 2017 world-wide demand for energy increased 2.1% over that for 2016. CO2 emission rates derived from that demand increased by 1.4%. The total amount of CO2 emitted during the year was the highest recorded to date, showing that the world, instead of making progress toward attaining the goals of the Paris Agreement, is actually regressing.

Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA’s Executive Director, said of these findings, “The robust global economy pushed up energy demand last year, which was mostly met by fossil fuels….the significant growth in global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions in 2017 tells us that current efforts to combat climate change are far from sufficient.” Use of all three fossil fuels increased in 2017, providing 81% of total energy demand, even as renewable energy generation (from solar, wind and hydropower) increased dramatically, by 6.3%. The United States was among just a handful of nations whose emission rates actually decreased.

Conclusion. Worsening of global warming and its consequent climate change effects cause major harms, and inflict costly damages the world over. For example, “the most severe drought [on] record” in the Middle East, made worse by human activity,  created sociopolitical conditions that contributed to the start of the Syrian civil war. The has led to dire consequences for security and stability in the region.

Many instances of extreme weather and climate events, such as the 2017 hurricanes affecting the Caribbean and southern U.S., have been at least partly attributed to global warming. Warmer temperatures adversely alter ecological balances such as with pine bark beetle infestations.

All nations of the world, including the U.S., must redouble their efforts to minimize further emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases, with great urgency. Without concerted, assertive action keeping the global temperature increase to less than 2°C will not be possible.

Photo Credit: Curran Kelleher via Flickr

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