There are annual announcements of all global greenhouse gas emissions and some people anticipate those numbers to see if reductions efforts have stopped the increase in emissions. Here I will discuss how the increase in global emissions is a far simpler story and how big the actions need to be to move the needle, slow the increases or actually decrease growth.
The tiny efforts have not had much effect. What has had an effect?
The rise of China sped up the increase in global emissions to +3% per year from 2000 to 2009. The world went from 25 billion ton per year of CO2 emissions in 2000 to about 32 billion tons per year in 2008 and 36 billion tons per year in 2018. The world dropped from 3% per year emissions growth to 0.9% in the 2010-2018 period. This was because China stopped rapidly expanding coal use to power growth. The world is still projected to increase by 0.6% in 2019.
The rest of the world outside of Asia has been emitting about 15-17 billion tons of CO2 per year (2000-2018). This has been relatively flat. North America and Europe peaked at about 14 billion tons of CO2 per year and are down to about 12.6 billion tons per year of CO2. If there was a complete elimination of coal in the US and Europe with natural gas, nuclear and/or renewables then the US and Europe could get to about 8-11 billion tons per year. 11 billion if it was with natural gas.
It would take converting all cars and trucks from oil power to electric to offset the expected increase in emissions from increase economic growth in Asia. The power for the vehicles would need to be from additional nuclear or renewables to maximize and get almost all of the offset. All global transportation is currently about 7 billion tons per year of CO2 and Asia is projected to add 3 billion tons per year of CO2 from now to 2030 and another 3-5 billion tons per year from 2030 to 2040.
China went from 5 billion tons of CO2 emission per year in 2000 to 11 billion tons per year of CO2 emissions in 2010. This was a pretty study move in those years. China’s coal usage increased from 1.5 billion tons per year in 2000 to 3.8 billion tons per year in 2010.
This was an average increase of 230 million tons per year. Burning 1 ton of coal generates 2.86 tons of CO2. The 230 million tons of coal increase was about 660 million tons of CO2.
The rest of China’s economy was scaling as well. There was a massive increase in cars, trucks and buildings. China is now at 13.5 billion tons of CO2 per year emissions and might hold flat or increase to 14.5 billion tons per year. China is still going to increase energy demand and grow its economy but they are using non-coal growth.
China was about 66% of Asia’s CO2 emissions growth for 20 years. China could flatten out emissions while still growing overall economic activity at a more moderate pace. However, India and the rest of Asia are on track to add 3 billion tons per year of emissions over the next ten years and would need to get vastly more efficient to avoid adding even more from 2030 to 2040.
India’s coal imports increased 19% in 2018. India is projected to add 1.3 to 1.5 billion tons per year of emissions based upon current policies. The other rising countries in Asia (Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines etc…) are collectively of comparable size and will make similar economic growth.
India has been consistently adding about 50-80 million tons per year of CO2 emissions and increased 2 billion tons of CO2 per year (1 to 3 billion) over 30 years. India’s economy is reaching the major global impact phase. India is adding about 110 million tons per year in CO2 emissions.
What happened there? These were the years when the US had its biggest shifts from coal to natural gas. The entire rise of natural gas fracking helped move the US to reduce its annual emissions by 800 million tons per year of CO2.