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Are emissions really dwindling forever or for now?

We live in interesting times. It’s a widely known fact that there exists a direct relationship between economic growth rate and rate of emissions – high growth brings with it greater atmospheric pollution as well as worsening climate problems. However, contrary to perception, for the first time in four decades, we have seen a halt or a marginal decline in CO2 emissions that are not akin to economic downturn. Termed as ‘decoupling’, the global carbon emissions actually went down in 2015, before peaking in 2014. The International Energy Agency (IEA) confirms that though the global economy surged by 3.1%, global emissions were restricted to 32.1 billion metric tons in 2015 indicating a marginal downturn from about 32.3 billion metric tons in 2014.

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Deciphering ‘decoupling’

So what does this ‘decoupling’ signify and what are its implications? Energy is considered to be the lifeline of any developing economy and the prosperity of people is highly dependent on it. Though this can certainly save the human community from the imminent climate disaster and place us in the safety zone, many economists suggest that this is just a fluctuation and not necessarily a peak. Several studies indicated that the peak could occur within a decade from now. So if we assume that we are the peak of fossils, the result would be progressive depletion. A balance needs to be maintained in ‘phasing out’ the fossils to ‘phasing in’ the renewables over a period of time.

Lower emissions

The main factors attributed to this lower emission observed include better efficiency from existing resources, a greater uptake of renewable energy and China cutting back its use of coal significantly on account of economic slowdown. Roughly, China produces a quarter of the emission that results in global warming. It is also proactively encouraging and promoting the use of alternative energy to check air pollution. Similarly, the availability of cheap natural gas has nudged the use of coal in power production in US. These two global powers are the major emitters of CO2.

A different perspective

Another school of thought points out that the marginal reduction only means that the flow of CO2 in the atmosphere is getting reduced. However, in reality, the levels of CO2 gets accumulated in the ecosystem over a period of time. We have enough stock accumulation added every year, irrespective of emissions rising or remaining flat, risking a higher possibility of awful things in future including runaway climate change.

A task to be achieved

A study echoes that, so far we have emitted a cumulative 1465 gigatons of CO2. Ideally, we must not release over 1000 gigatons to stand a good chance of holding global warming to 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels. So at current levels, there exists an equal opportunity to hold the climate below 2 degree C. The use of twin energy and natural gas boom could be a force multiplier to have a favorable global outcome through reduction of accumulation. India could be an active participant in this global reduction due to its large renewable target aimed at altering the primary energy mix.

The global growth rate has more of less stagnated over the past few years. Likewise, China has pledged to reduce emissions of major pollutants in the power sector by 60% till 2020 along with simultaneously promoting cleaner alternatives of energy. It has sharply lifted its wind power targets to 250 GW and quadrupled the previous solar targets by 2020. How will the world react, if the global economy is back on track again? Will it rebuff this decoupling trend and again show-up the direct relation between two variables – growth and emissions? Are we all geared up to handle such a situation and control the emissions?

While India is responsible for just 2.1% of the renewable generation capacity existing globally and taken such a herculean task, the hope is that it is not delivered at the cost of our development.

Contributed by Rahul Munjal, Founder and Managing Director, Hero Future Energies

This article was originally published at ETEnergyworld.com.

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