Are Greenhouse Gases Peaking?

December 9, 2015


New York Times:

Industrial emissions of greenhouse gases rose only slightly in 2014 and appear to be on track to decline in 2015, according to new data that raise the possibility that a period of rapid global emissions growth may be coming to an end.

The decline of 0.6 percent projected for this year, should it come to pass, would be highly unusual at a time when the global economy is growing. The projection contrasts sharply with emissions growth that averaged 2.4 percent a year over the last decade, and sometimes topped 3 percent.

The new figures were released at the climate conference here by the Global Carbon Project, a collaboration that studies emissions, and published simultaneously in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Past emissions declines have usually been linked to economic distress, such as the global financial panic of 2009 and the Russian economic meltdown of the late 1990s.

The new figures suggest that there is a chance that global emissions have already peaked and may be starting a long-term decline, experts said Monday, which would be an important inflection point for the international effort to limit the risks of global warming.

Washington Post:

The single biggest factor appears to be a marked reduction in China’s use of coal to make electricity. But other countries, from North America to Europe, also emitted less carbon dioxide from fossil fuel burning as governments and consumers shifted to cleaner fuels and more fuel-efficient vehicles, according to a report published Monday in the scientific journal Nature Climate Change.

The authors cautioned that this year’s “pause” is not likely to last, as developing economies in India and elsewhere around the world are projected to increase emissions from coal and oil in the coming decades. But those higher emissions are beginning to be offset elsewhere as more people turn to the sun and wind to provide electricity, the analysis said, suggesting that a “peak” in the world’s output of greenhouse gases could be achieved in the foreseeable future.

A favorite hobby horse of climate deniers is the phony “humanitarian” argument – “Exxon cares so much about the poor starving people of Africa, we won’t rest till they all have the GE Kitchen of Tomorrow”.
The argument kind of falls down – if making way for  greater exploitation of fossil fuels by giant corporations was the key to progress, Nigeria and Libya would be shining beacons of democracy and prosperity.
Maybe that’s why Africa seems to be diverting from the idea.


An Africa-wide mega-scale initiative backed by all African heads of state should see the continent greatly increase its renewable energy over the next 15 years.

The African Renewable Energy Initiative (Arei) plans to develop at least 10 GW of new renewable energy generation capacity by 2020, and at least 300 GW by 2030, potentially making the continent the cleanest in the world.

The plan to accelerate solar, hydro, wind and geothermal energy could see Africa leapfrogging other continents by developing thousands of small-scale “virtual power stations” that distribute electricity via mini-grids and would not require transmission lines, which involve a loss of up to a quarter of power during the process.

The initiative, which is tentatively estimated to cost at least $500bn over 20 years, is billed as “by Africa, for Africa”, and is intended to reduce Africa’s present reliance on coal. As well as reducing emissions, it will help at least 600 million people switch from lighting homes and cooking with diesel, kerosene and wood, and reduce air pollution in homes and cities.

Solar is expected to play a leading role. “We are ready to engage in massive solar and wind energy production to attain 100% electricity reach for our people,” said Judi Wakhungu, Kenya’s environment cabinet secretary.

Speaking at the launch of the initiative at the COP 21 talks in Paris, the president of the African Development Bank (AfDB), Akinwumi Adesina, said the continent currently loses 4% of its GDP due to a lack of clean energy.

“Africa is the continent suffering the most from the scorching heat from rising temperatures, and droughts have become more frequent and with greater intensity than ever before. Africa needs more money for adaptation.

“The continent has been short-changed by climate change. But we must ensure that it is not short-changed by climate finance. AfDB will triple its climate finance to $5bn a year by 2020,” he said.

Sub-Saharan Africa is the only region in the world where the number of people without access to electricity is set to rise. By 2030, Africa’s share of the world’s population without electricity will increase from less than half today to more than two-thirds.

Detailed plans for each country will be worked out over the next five years, but the AfDB and other financial groups, including the World Bank, have pledged an initial $5bn.

News of the initiative comes as a coalition of 12 countries, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Ethiopia, Kenya, Liberia and Malawi set themselves a goal to replant 100m hectares (247m acres) of forest across the continent in the next 15 years.



12 Responses to “Are Greenhouse Gases Peaking?”

  1. dumboldguy Says:

    The deniers will love this, and will be touting it as a new kind of “pause”. It remains to be seen whether the long-term trend line is really changing.

    • Even assuming a pause in the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere we’re still operating in a system that has to play out with what we already have. That means that the trend will continue for quite a while to come. And of course the deniers did deny that CO2 had anything to do with it. So what now? “Never mind what we just said”?

      • skeptictmac57 Says:

        Well, they are hardly fazed by contradictory and hypocritical positions, as history has shown.
        An intellectually honest person has to take care not to reject sound data that disconfirms their positions and hypotheses out of hand, but that’s not the kind of people we are dealing with at this point.

      • dumboldguy Says:

        Lets not get out “trends” confused. The CO2 concentration in the atmosphere may indeed level off or even decline some over the next few years (don’t bet on it, though—remember CHINA and INDIA). However, the temperature “trend” will continue upward in any case because of the lag time built into the system.

  2. skeptictmac57 Says:

    One advantage that developing nations have is that in areas where there is no grid, or access to reliable energy, they can live with the intermittent nature of solar and wind power because it is already better than nothing, and their lifestyle is not built around a reliable energy source as the developed world is.

    • dumboldguy Says:

      And the only hope for the planet is that we can encourage those in the developing nations to adopt small-scale, off-grid, localized renewable energy sources to the maximum extent. If we don’t head them off at the pass, they will follow the lead of the West and build coal plants to generate electricity and use more fossil fuels in general. That will likely be game over.

      Of course, it’s the duty of the rich nations that have already “gotten theirs” to help finance the efforts of the developing nations to “do it better” than we did. (Mitch McConnell and the Repugnants have said they will block any efforts to allocate the money for this).

  3. indy222 Says:

    Where’s the graph? Would like to see the longer trend to put it in context. Let’s not commit the same nonsense we see the denialists do with temperature trends and Arctic Ocean ice cover. Remember the Richard Alley schtick on that.

    • jimbills Says:

      Nonsense abounds, because people believe what they want to believe.

      The manufacturing sector in China has taken a massive hit the past year, with exports down significantly to both the U.S. and the E.U. Their GDP figures are VERY likely to be over-inflated by several percentage points.

      Mining is taking a beating this year, this has little to nothing to do with renewables, and everything to do with the state of the economy:

      All of which suggests we are actually in a global economic slump, or at least approaching one.

      Three things: 1) the analysis above fails to question the Chinese data, and is counting IMF figures BEFORE the end of the year, just assuming they are currently accurate, won’t go down, or be revised, 2) the 0.6% drop in emissions is within the 1.1% range of error, and therefore might not ACTUALLY be a drop at all, and 3) we’re taking data from one study from one year, ignoring external economic factors, and leaping the Grand Canyon to say that global emissions have peaked this year.

      It’s absolute nonsense – but we WANT to believe it. It’s EXACTLY the same thing the deniers do.

      • dumboldguy Says:

        Reminds me of what Tonto said to the Lone Ranger.

        The Lone Ranger and Tonto were riding along, when suddenly the horizon filled with thousands of screaming indians on the warpath. TLR says, “Well, this doesn’t look good. I don’t think we’re gonna make it out of this alive.”

        Tonto says, “What do you mean WE, white man?”.

        Who is this WE that wants to believe “IT”? I’m not one of them.

        • jimbills Says:

          “We” means humans, and not any particular human, but the group. I wasn’t responding to your comments here, but to the study and the Times article (which are drawing conclusions far too soon), and to indy’s incisive comment.

          In the end, it won’t matter what any one person thinks or believes, though, but what actions result from our combined thoughts and and beliefs. The above study plus the Times article suggest that a status quo response is solving climate change because emissions are already peaking.

          “The new figures suggest that there is a chance that global emissions have already peaked and may be starting a long-term decline, experts said Monday”

          “We” can’t seem to shed our delusional nature, and prop one delusion up as soon as we break down another.

          • dumboldguy Says:

            There is nothing wrong with saying “The new figures suggest that there is a chance that global emissions have already peaked and may be starting a long-term decline, experts said”, because the operative words there are CHANCE and MAY BE. I see no “conclusions” in that, and would like to understand how you can so baldly state “The above study plus the Times article suggest that a status quo response is solving climate change because emissions are already peaking” (or is the use of “suggest” meant to imply the same as “chance” and “may be” in the ariginal?)

            Why are you building straw men to attack? (And if you wanted to point out specific “objectionables” in the post, you should have added “…raise the possibility that a period of rapid global emissions growth may be coming to an end”. That one lifted my eyebrows more.)

          • jimbills Says:

            The point is why would they even be suggesting it?

            It’s way, way too soon to even suggest it, and there’s an understandable motivation for why they would. The year isn’t even out yet, they have one year as a reference point, and there are several reasons to question the data from this year – the accuracy of the Chinese data and the fact that a lot of their energy usage has dropped due to a manufacturing decline.

            I’m not the one that brought this up. They did, indy pointed it out, and I’m agreeing with him.

            Our delusion is that we’re solving climate change already. This is not an uncommon belief and studies like the above are used prematurely to bolster that delusion. I personally think we should guard ourselves against that.

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