Carbon intensity of world economy on the rise

Source(s): United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction

By Denis McClean

11 November 2011 - The latest edition of the Low Carbon Economy Index finds that the world economy is going backwards rather than forwards in efforts to limit global warming to 2º Celsius as agreed during the Cancun round of climate change talks last year.

The Low Carbon Economy Index, now in its third edition and published by PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP) which specialises in climate change consulting, makes for grim reading in the run-up to the Durban round of climate change talks at the end of this month.

The report finds that if we are to reduce carbon by 80% by 2050 and limit global warming to 2º Celsius, a 4.8% annual reduction in carbon intensity is now required. Carbon intensity is the amount of carbon by weight emitted per unit of energy consumed.

Andrew Maskrey who leads UNISDR’s Global Assessment Report process, commented: “Insufficient progress is being made in the reduction of carbon emissions. Unfortunately many of the economic factors that are leading to increasing emissions are also generating increased exposure to hazards, such as cyclones, floods, landslides and earthquakes. Taken together, more frequent and intense hazards and the growing exposure of regional economies and their urban centres will lead to increased disaster losses and impacts.”

In 2009, the Index reported an improvement of 0.8% in carbon efficiency against the 2% annually that was required since 2000. The rate of decarbonisation slowed to 0.7% last year.

According to the report: “In 2010, in addition to global emissions reaching their highest level in absolute terms, the carbon intensity of the global economy increased by 0.6%; emissions rose faster than GDP growth coming out of the 2009-09 recession (5.8% versus 5.1%).

“Last year our modelling showed that a 4.7% reduction in carbon intensity globally was necessary to stay on the path to a low carbon economy in 2050. This year only a decarbonisation rate of at least 4.8% every year will meet the 2 degrees target.”

The report cites two reasons for the increase: rapid growth of developing economies with higher carbon intensities and “more significantly, many of the G20 countries (both developed and developing) saw an increase in the carbon intensity of their economies in 2010: a dirty recovery for those economies that had been in recession in 2009.”

Other possible explanations may include “the cold winters in the northern hemisphere at the beginning and end of 2010, the fall in the price of coal relative to gas, and a drop in renewable energy deployment.”

The Index also found that six of the G7 countries increased their carbon intensity and the one that did reduce its carbon intensity, Canada, increased its total emissions by 2.6%.

On the positive side, there was an 8.2% fall in tonnes of carbon emitted in Australia, due to a 16.1% fall in coal consumption. Mexico attained high economic growth (5.5%) with near-zero emissions increases (0.1%).

The report concluded: “the results from these countries do show that an annual rate of decarbonisation of 4.8% is possible, but it will be extremely challenging to sustain this every year in every country till 2050.”

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