For the past decade, the two biggest reasons for despair for those who favour strong action to stop climate change, and the top two excuses for those who don’t, have been the rapid increase in coal-burning in China and inaction in the US.
But in the past few years, to the surprise of many, both these countries have taken major steps away from coal. Their move opens up a crucial window of opportunity to achieve what many thought was a lost cause – a peak in global emissions of heat-trapping gases well before 2020.
In essence, China is the world's largest emitter of CO2, but recent changes in policy may mean that Chinese demand for coal and therefor also CO2 emissions may have stabilised. And in the second largest emitter, the US, emissions are already falling, and the likelihood is that this will accelerate.
Emissions between 2010–2013
- Fossil fuel use growth from non-OECD countries: +2.4%-points
- Emissions reductions in the EU and the US: -0.5%-points
- Emissions growth in rest of the OECD: +0.2%-points
FOSSIL FUELS TOTAL EMISSIONS GROWTH: +2.1%
Declining emissions from tropical deforestation: -0.2%
GLOBAL CO2 EMISSIONS GROWTH RATE TOTAL: +1.8%
How emissions could stabilise peak and decline before 2020
- Maintain current emission reduction rates in EU and US: See above
- Zero growth of coal use in China: -1.1%-points
- Stop emissions growth in rest of the OECD: -0.2%-points
- Zero tropical deforestation by 2020: -1.0%-points
RESULTING GLOBAL EMISSIONS GROWTH RATE: -0.3%
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Of course, this is nowhere near enough. But as the article says, just a short while ago, even this seemed out of reach.