Weatherdem's Weblog

Bridging climate science, citizens, and policy

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Carbon Emissions: Who Is Doing vs. Who Has Done More?

Inspired by a tweet, this blog post spurred me to think about how to answer a question: who is doing more on carbon emissions: the US or some other country?  I think looking ahead to the next 5-10 years, the author is probably correct: it appears that the US is on a path toward additional CO2 reductions while some other nations’ efforts might not yield the results they did in the past.  But that only captures part of the story.  To get a good idea of who has done what, it is instructive to look at multiple time periods, as the following table does for OECD countries (link has raw data; calculations are mine):

Environment – Air and land – Emissions of Carbon Dioxide
CO2 emissions
Million tonnes
1990 1999 2006 2009 09-06 09-99 09-90 09-71
Australia 260 333 393 395 1% 19% 52% 174%
Austria 56 61 72 63 -13% 3% 13% 29%
Belgium 108 117 110 101 -8% -14% -6% -14%
Canada 432 511 544 521 -4% 2% 21% 54%
Chile 31 57 60 65 8% 14% 110% 210%
Czech R. 155 111 121 110 -9% -1% -29% -27%
Denmark 50 55 56 47 -16% -15% -6% -15%
Estonia 36 15 16 15 -6% 0% -58% ####
Finland 54 56 67 55 -18% -2% 2% 38%
France 352 378 380 354 -7% -6% 1% -18%
Germany 950 829 824 750 -9% -10% -21% -23%
Greece 70 80 94 90 -4% 13% 29% 260%
Hungary 67 57 56 48 -14% -16% -28% -20%
Iceland 2 2 2 2 0% 0% 0% 100%
Ireland 30 39 45 39 -13% 0% 30% 77%
Israel 33 50 62 65 5% 30% 97% 364%
Italy 397 425 464 389 -16% -8% -2% 33%
Japan 1064 1169 1205 1093 -9% -7% 3% 44%
Korea 229 385 476 515 8% 34% 125% 890%
Luxem. 10 7 11 10 -9% 43% 0% -33%
Mexico 265 334 395 400 1% 20% 51% 312%
Netherl. 156 169 178 176 -1% 4% 13% 35%
N. Zealand 23 30 34 31 -9% 3% 35% 121%
Norway 28 38 37 37 0% -3% 32% 54%
Poland 342 303 304 287 -6% -5% -16% 0%
Portugal 39 60 56 53 -5% -12% 36% 279%
Slovak R. 57 39 37 33 -11% -15% -42% -15%
Slovenia 13 14 16 15 -6% 7% 15% ####
Spain 206 269 332 283 -15% 5% 37% 136%
Sweden 53 57 48 42 -13% -26% -21% -49%
Switzerland 41 43 44 42 -5% -2% 2% 8%
Turkey 127 177 240 256 7% 45% 102% 524%
UK 549 515 534 466 -13% -10% -15% -25%
USA 4869 5506 5685 5195 -9% -6% 7% 21%
EU27 total 4052 3812 3996 3577 -10% -6% -12% ####
OECD total 11158 12293 12999 12045 -7% -2% 8% 29%
Brazil 194 292 327 338 3% 16% 74% 271%
China 2211 3047 5603 6832 22% 124% 209% 754%
India 582 939 1252 1586 27% 69% 173% 693%
Indonesia 142 261 356 376 6% 44% 165% ####
Russian Federation 2179 1468 1580 1533 -3% 4% -30% ####
S. Africa 255 291 331 369 11% 27% 45% 112%
World 20966 22947 28093 28994 3% 26% 38% 106%

I have included data from 5 years: 1971 (the first of the dataset), 1990, 1999, 2006, and 2009 (the last year with data).  The blog post I link to above asks which nation has reduced CO2 emissions the most since 2006.  In many ways, this is like choosing 1998 for the start of a global temperature data comparison.  You can do it, but that doesn’t mean you should do it.  I will use 2006-2009 as the baseline against which I make comparisons with other start years.  The story changes (of course) when you do this.

How did the US fare from 2006 to 2009?  Emissions were reduced (-9%), there is no denying that.  The Great Recession and the relatively widespread switch from old expensive coal plants to newer cheaper natural gas plants accounted for most of that reduction.  How do we know?  What is the US’s national climate policy?  We don’t know because we don’t have one.  Sure, there are actions that the EPA and other agencies of the Obama administration have taken, but they occurred simultaneously with the recession and market responses to a different cheap fuel.  It will take years before their effects are noticeable in aggregate numbers like total CO2 emissions.  But look, most European nations’ emissions were also reduced during the 2006-2009 time period.  The biggest factors: the Great Recession and austerity measures keeping economies from growing.

What does the next time period show us?  From 1999 to 2009 (11 years), US emissions fell by 6% – still a noteworthy accomplishment given the lack of national policy pushing us towards any type of meaningful goal.  How did European nations do in comparison?  Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Hungary, Portugal, Slovak Republic, Sweden, and the United Kingdom all posted double-digit percentage emission declines.  All but two of those countries posted double the US’ 6% value (>=12%).  What happened in the late-1990s?  The signing of the Kyoto Protocol (all except the US, of course).  Did the European nations hit their Kyoto targets?  No, but they decreased their CO2 emissions substantially.

I often write that we should benchmark nations’ CO2 emissions to 1990, since that was prior to Kyoto or even the Rio Conference.  In other words, before emissions garnered widespread international attention.  Let’s compare the US and European nations on that basis.  I would further advocate for this comparison because of the length of time involved: 19 years, which represents a lot of time.

Unsurprisingly, US emissions increased from 1990 to 2009 – by 7%.  What about their European counterparts?  In this case, I’ll collect all the nations who posted emission decreases.   Belgium (-6%), Czech Republic (-29%), Denmark (-6%), Estonia (-58%), Germany (-21%!), Hungary (-28%), Italy (-2%), Poland (-16%), Solvak Republic (-42%), Sweden (-21%!), and the United Kingdom (-15%).  Well, well, well.  It appears that Germany’s reputation for reducing emissions is pretty well deserved.  Take away the former Eastern bloc nations and there are six European countries which accomplished something the US did not.

The last column represents the longest look possible: from 1971 to 2009.  I have never looked at this time frame and it held some surprises.  In contrast to the US’ (+21%) change in CO2 emissions, Belgium (-14%), Czech Republic (-27%), Denmark (-15%), France (-18%), Germany (-23%), Hungary (-20%), Luxembourg (-33%), Slovak Republic (-15%), Sweden (-49%), and the United Kingdom (-25%) all posted declines compared to 38 years ago!  Let’s give credit where credit is due: that is impressive!

I am not saying that European countries are perfect or that they accomplished their task.  Anything but: they still have positive emissions, which is changing the climate.  But their emissions are, in yearly magnitude and in cumulative sum, dwarfed by the US’s.  The US has a very long way to go before it can claim any environmental success story related to climate change.  We do have things we can learn from the other side of the pond.  We could start by developing and publicizing a national climate policy.  Absent that, efforts from US mayors are needed and welcomed as part of a bottom-up approach, which I am convinced is the only way this problem will be tackled successfully.


Why Design of Carbon Markets Is So Important

Various interested parties have written about the efficacy (or lack thereof) with regard to carbon-related market schemes of all sizes and types.  Probably one of the more visible programs is the global emissions offset scheme enacted in the wake of the Kyoto Protocol.  This is the case for good reason: Kyoto represented the largest effort to date to deal with carbon emissions and related activities at the international level.  The short story can be summarized by two competing viewpoints.  On the one hand are people who think the Kyoto-scheme was real progress because it did something for the first time.  On the other hand, critics claim that the scheme is a failure for any number of reasons, most not actually dealing with real-world facts.

Who’s right?  Well, as usual, there are valid points made on both sides.  It is true that a global market was created where none before it existed.  In and of itself, that is probably a good thing.  It allows us to monitor how such a program works and make modifications with time if something needs to be tweaked or overhauled.  To that point, the critics make a good argument.  The scheme very likely isn’t working.  But critics will leave it at that without examining it in further detail.

I’m going to look at one part of the scheme in a little more detail and explain why the scheme isn’t working as efficiently as it should.

Quickly: there are too many credits in the market.  In economic terms, there is a drastic oversupply of offset credits.  By definition, the market will operate inefficiently.  How inefficient is the market?  After all, if we are talking about just a little oversupply, we are also talking about small inefficiency.  How does 1,000X oversupply grab you?  Yes, that number is correct and it is wildly inefficient.  This scheme is laughable (or would be if part of a comedy routine).  Unfortunately, it is what passes for real-world policy today.

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2009 Copenhagen Climate Summit News 12/22/09 – Accord & Future Directions

I obviously haven’t posted anything about the Copenhagen Conference for a few days.  Not for lack of desire, but for a lack of time.  So before more time slips away and I lose track of what happened in Copenhagen, here are where things stand, as best as I can determine.

The Copenhagen Climate Conference of 2009 wasn’t an abject failure, as too many people continue to profess.  Did the Conference result in the most aggressive actions by every country that the most optimistic could have hoped for?  Of course not.  Anybody who thought that would happen set themselves up for severe disappointment.  Is it the final step in climate action internationally?  Again, of course it isn’t.  What I think happened is a solid step in the general right direction was taken.  The results were actually better than the total gridlock that appeared 1-3 days days prior to the end led observers to believe they would be.  The agent who made the recorded progress available?  The Obama administration.

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1,000 Mayors Sign Onto Meet Kyoto Protocol Targets

This article is a little old (from 3Oct2009), but still relevant nonetheless:

On Friday, as outgoing president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, he announced that 1,000 mayors across the country had signed on to a pact to meet the Kyoto protocol targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. They also will urge the federal government and the states to cut emissions by 7% from 1990 levels by 2012.

A number of cities’ mayors in Colorado signed on, including Denver, Boulder and Westminster.  The map I link to above demonstrates something that makes a lot of sense: urban locations are more likely to have signed on than rural locations.  Not that there are no rural towns who have signed on – quite the opposite.  But more and more “big city” mayors recognize that managing their cities with drastic reductions in water and food and notable increases in temperature, drought and sea-level rise will be increasingly difficult for the remainder of this century unless aggressive measures are taken now to reduce our climate forcing.

I can’t applaud Greg Nickels (Seattle mayor who started this project) and the other hundreds of mayors who recognize the threat and have done something about it.


Recent Climate Change Milestones & Goals From Around The World

The UK is expected to exceed their Kyoto targets.  Their goal was a 12.5% below 1990 levels by 2010.  The expected number is 23% below 1990 levels.  Another goal is a 34% reduction of 1990 emissions by 2022.  There is, of course, some questions as to which industries are included in those numbers.  Even if some sectors are left out, the UK is clearly making progress – and their economy isn’t being destroyed because of it.

China is talking about a 15% renewable energy standard by 2020 as an official goal.  Having set that goal, there is also talk that 20% would be necessary and attainable – a sentiment with which I agree.

India wants 20,000MW of solar capacity by 2020, 100,000MW by 2030 and 200,000MW by 2050.  It’s a little confusing to see capacity increase by 80,000MW in 10 years (2020 to 2030), but then only an additional 100,000MW in 20 years.  In any event, barring major economic or physical disasters, these goals are laudable and will almost certainly be raised once the price of deployment for PV drops.

Scotland has passed legislation that sets a more ambitious goal than the UK: 42% below 1990 levels by 2020!  Thus, Scotland has passed, to date, the most ambitious climate pollution bill in the world.  Given the fact the Scotland, the UK and the European Union are at a minimum near to achieving their Kyoto Protocol targets, the 2020 and 2050 targets should be within reach.

So how about the U.S., supposedly the most technologically advanced and entrepreneurial country in the world?  As passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, our climate bill (still a long way from full Congressional approval) is setting a carbon emissions goal of 17% reduction of 2005 levels by 2020!  This would be equivalent to a 4% reduction of 1990 levels – a big deficit to the UK’s ~34% or Scotland’s 42% by the same date.  That’s one important reason to pay attention to the baseline year!!!  ACESA also includes a renewable electricity standard (not a renewable energy standard – another important difference) of 20% by 2020.  China’s 15% renewable energy standard goes further – a goal that I already mentioned the Chinese will likely surpass.

How do the policy numbers compare to the science numbers?  The IPCC says that in order to keep global average temperature rise below 2°C we need to make emission reductions from 1990 levels of 25-40% by 2020.  If ACESA passes Congress with the weak targets currently in place, I hope we cut our emissions more than what the legislation demands.  The state of our planet depends upon it.

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Some Poznan Climate Meeting Results

World diplomats met at Poznan, Poland last week in an effort to work toward a 2009 Copenhagen Conference where a draft to replace the Kyoto Protocol is expected.  U.S. diplomats, at the direction of lame-duck Bush, hemmed and hawed and stymied efforts to make progress in North America.  Joining Bush’s efforts to delay action were Germany, Japan, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.  The news from the European Union was slightly more positive – they announced preliminary efforts to cut CO2 emissions by 2020.  The rate at which they do so is up for discussion, as there are different ways to measure cuts.  Diplomats claimed they are shooting for a 20% reduction of CO2 emissions by 1990 standards by 2020.  Some environmental groups countered that the net effect of the system presented would only reduce emissions by 4%.

At this early stage, I think I’m closer to agreeing with the critics due to the methods announced.  EU countries would be able to sponsor green projects in developing countries – use offsets in other words.  That doesn’t reduce their actual emissions, which is what will have to be done eventually.  The longer we wait to do so, the more expensive and disruptive it will be.  Further, it seems liklier to me that officials are willing to say they’re doing something in feel-good gestures rather than force a shift of their constituents’ lifestyles.  Too many people are passing the responsibility down to the next generation.  If a crisis occurs, it will be too late to continue this deceitful practice.  That’s the biggest problem with having politicians deciding which actions to take.  I suppose the good news is taking some action today could help decisions to take more action later.

What will change things worldwide is a new American President.  Thankfully, President-elect Obama appears to be making a new energy and climate change policy a priority in his future administration.  It will take somebody that is bold to bring bold change to the way things are done.  The biggest question right now is can Obama make a difference prior to the 2009 Copenhagen Conference?  Given the plate-full of disasters that Bush is merrily passing along (see a trend?), I’m starting to think action within the U.S. will be difficult to achieve in the first year of an Obama presidency.  It won’t be impossible and I am in no way advocating for Obama to do nothing.  But I think an honest assessment of the possibilities before us should be made.  I do think that an economic recovery is dependent on the development of green economy and not the other way around.  Another point of good news: states that have taken the lead in initiating action will help Obama’s programs get off the ground.  Real-life examples of how 21st century energy policies create good American jobs and boost economies can already be made.  They just need to be publicized better.

That assessment includes realizing that the fossil fuel industries will fight every little piece of progress that Obama and others can and will put forward.  Nothing that involves a change from the status quo will meet with their approval.  Remember that as you continue to pay high prices for every kind of fuel: your money is going to pay for executives and lobbyists to convince Congress not to change any energy policies.  That’s millions of dollars of your and my hard-earned money.  They’ll happily use our money to fund PR campaigns to tell us they’re fighting for us to keep our hard-earned money.  They’ve done it for a generation and look where it’s left us.

The big picture is this: the next Protocol will need to call for countries to make challenging but attainable changes.  CO2 concentrations must be brought back under 350ppm, 37ppm less than what is present today.  That means emissions must slow down, stall, then decrease.  The next Protocol is supposed to take effect in 2012.  If our habits haven’t changed by then, it will be more difficult and more expensive to change those habits.  Of course, we’re likely to be responding to the climate forcing that has already occurred at the same time we paying to change our habits.  Those costs will compound quickly, leaving us with fewer oppurtunities in the future to do things we want to do, above and beyond the things we need to do.


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