Global Energy-Related Carbon Emissions Could Peak in 2020

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At an international meeting on climate change in December of this year, participating nations are expected to present plans that could put the countries on a course to achieve a stated goal to keep the rise in global temperatures below 2 degrees Celsius (about 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) relative to pre-industrial levels.

More ambitiously, the International Energy Agency (IEA), in a report released Monday, offers a scenario under which the 2-degree goal can be met and that relies solely on proven technologies and policies without changing the economic and development prospects of any region. The IEA’s so-called Bridge Scenario is based on five measures:

  • Increase energy efficiency in industry, buildings and transport
  • Reduce use of the least-efficient coal-fired power plants and banning new construction
  • Increase investment in renewable energy technologies, from $270 billion in 2014 to $400 billion in 2030
  • Eliminate (gradually) fossil-fuel subsidies to end-users by 2030
  • Reduce methane emissions in oil and gas production

According to the IEA the world’s carbon budget (that is, the amount of carbon left to be consumed if the world is to have a 50% chance of meeting the 2-degree goal) will be exhausted by around 2040. That means that unless nations take stronger action after 2040, the average global temperature increase will be around 2.6 degrees Celsius by the end of the century and up by another 3.5 degrees by the year 2200.

Reaching the early peak in emissions by 2020 is one of the IEA’s four “pillars” to reduce energy-related carbon emissions. The other three are reviewing progress every five years, locking in short-term commitments to achieve long-term goals and effectively tracking progress in the energy sector.

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In the IEA’s Bridge Scenario, coal use peaks before 2020 and then declines while oil demand rises to 2020 and then plateaus. Total greenhouse gas emissions peak around 2020, with energy intensity and carbon intensity improve by 40% by 2030. China’s economic growth decouples from emissions growth around the same time, much sooner than expected according to the IEA.

In the developed nations, the pace of decoupling economic growth from emissions growth is almost 30% more rapid than it is China. In the European Union that rate is due to improved energy efficiency, while in the United States renewables are expected to contribute a third of emissions savings in 2030.

Here’s a link to an executive summary of the IEA’s 2015 special report: Energy and Climate Change.