Environment & Sustainability

Increased global emissions and renovated pledges… where are we going?

The substantial increase in the CO2 global emissions registered in 2017 shows that the world is still very far from an absolute decoupling, and it probably also casts doubts on the goodness of the Paris Agreement, and on the more recent internationally shared pledges of green growth.

After three years of substantial stability, the latest IEA “Global Energy & CO2 Status Report” showed a quite shocking, but also expected, 1.4% increase in the CO2 global emissions in 2017 compared to 2016.

Some good news came from the US, where a strong uptake of renewables had been able to offset the increase in the total primary energy consumptions, so that emissions dropped by 0.5%. But an opposite trend was registered in many other regions or counties, notably in the EU, where emissions grew by 1.5%, basically due to a declining growth rate in renewables deployment and increase natural gas demand. Emission also (not surprisingly) increased in most Asian countries: in particular the Chinese economy grew 7% in the last year, while emissions increases of just 1.7%, thanks to renewables and the coal-to-gas switching continuing process. This is a quite impressive result for the Asian giant, showing that a greener growth and reducing coal use is technically and economically possible also for such a big and eager for growth country.

What probably stands out most from these data is that an absolute decoupling of economic growth from global emissions is still very far from being the new normal: the final target to be achieved to drastically reduce global emissions, tackle climate change and fulfil the Paris Agreement. And it will also probably require a rethink of the growth concepts, and which are the parameters to consider (is GDP and outdated concept? what about and how to measure sustainable development?) and objectives that should be pursued.

How are this facts and numbers going to impact the next UNFCCC COP24? How are the countries dealing with and reacting to them?

Recently 23 countries[1] have jointly declared their intention to step up their climate ambition, also calling for other countries to do the same.  In this “Declaration for Ambition” the signatories focused on the need for all the Paris Agreement countries to enhance their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) by 2020 in order to succeed in limiting global warming to 1.5 Celsius degrees. Day after day this target seems to become more and more difficult to achieve, although still doable. But to score this goal all countries in the next few years will have to walk the talk setting long-term low emission development strategies and pathways consistent with the Paris Agreement to reach net zero emissions.

The EU long political process to review the 2030 targets to set more ambitious goals is still ongoing, and if Europe really wants to assume a leading role at global level in tackling climate change, rasing the bar is probably a necessary step to show a real commitment and light the way. Just a couple of weeks ago the EU Parliament and Conuncil have agreed a 32% EU-wide binding target for renewables by 2030, 5 percentage points higher than the original 27%  agreed in 2014, but the crucial ussue remains setting a higher GHG emissions reduction. 

Is this the moment to aim higher? And if this is not the right moment when is it going to be? In many markets it seems that the economics and the society are ready for a stronger uptake of green solutions, behaviours and technologies. Is the main reason for not acting now “just” political?

In the next months, and especially in the context of the COP24, the world will need to see more tangible efforts from all countries if we really want to reduce the global emissions and fight climate change.

[1] Argentina, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Denmark, Ethiopia, Fiji, Finland, France, Germany, Maldives, Marshall Islands, Mexico, Monaco, The Kingdom of the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Rwanda, Saint Lucia, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom