Kate Mackenzie Emissions fall in 2008: and not entirely because of the recession

Are recent government efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions finally beginning to bear fruit? According to a report published in the Financial Times on Monday, yes.

This comes despite the large contribution to cuts that will have come from the recession this year.

Exactly how much overall emissions fell won’t be known until the agency’s report is released in early October, but according to the FT the IEA will report an unprecedented and “significant” decline.

It’s not the first report showing emissions have fallen because of the recession – for example, European Union emissions are thought to have fallen 1.3 per cent last year for the same reason.

But the IEA says one quarter of last year’s worldwide reduction is due to government regulations – an ‘unprecedented’ proportion, according to IEA chief economist Fatih Birol.

And the governments that contributed most to that 25 per cent or so? Step forward European Union with its ambition carbon reductions targets; the US, with car efficiency standards, and China with its efficiency targets.

In fact, by some measures China will be making the biggest effort of all between now and 2020, says Birol. You might have thought it was Denmark, with all those wind farms or some other European country that would be credited with making the most effort to reduce emissions in the next few years. But no – it’s China.

Birol said:

“If China reaches its targets – and in the past, it has reached most of its targets of this kind – its emissions [growth] will have declined so much by 2020 that it will be the country that has achieved the largest emission reductions. China will be at the forefront of combating climate change.”

The clarification is that this is a curb, not absolute reductions – China’s overall emissions will keep growing along with its economy; but they will grow at a slower rate than ‘business as usual’ would suggest. In other words, the economy will become much less carbon intensive.

But if China meets its targets – and unlike many other countries, it tends to not only meet but exceed its targets – it will have achieved more of an emissions reduction than any other country.

However as Fiona Harvey in the FT points out, China is still reluctant to talk about a peak in emissions earlier than 2050 – a point which scientists fear is far too late to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

Related links:

How the car industry learned to love efficiency standards (FT Energy Source, 20/05/09)