In the current round of climate treaty negotiations, the European Union (EU) advocates a legally-binding ‘protocol’ that would “put the world on track to reduce global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by at least 60% below 2010 levels by 2050.” This is roughly equivalent to the EU’s longstanding goal to reduce emissions 50% below 1990 levels by 2050.
On the scale from piece of cake to economic suicide pact, how “ambitious” (or crazy) is the EU proposal?
U.S. Chamber of Commerce VP for climate and technology Stephen Eule kindly sent me two slides based on his analysis of the ‘scope of the challenge.’
To achieve a 60% reduction in carbon dioxide-equivalent greenhouse gases by 2050, the world as a whole must reduce emissions from 49 gigatons CO2e in 2010 to 19.6 gigatons in 2050. That may not seem like a big stretch at first glance until you realize that global emissions are projected to reach 87.0 gigatons in 2050 under current policies. In other words, to meet the EU target, global emissions must decrease by 67.4 gigatons or 77.5% below the baseline estimate for 2050.
The graph should immediately raise red flags. No country has ever powered its development out of poverty chiefly with solar panels, wind turbines, and biofuels. Developing country GHG emissions already exceed those of industrial countries, nearly all emissions growth over the next 35 years and beyond is expected to occur in developing countries, and billions of desperately poor people still lack access to modern commercial energy, nearly 87% of which comes from fossil fuels.
So under the EU’s “60-by-50” global emissions cap, how much additional CO2-emitting fossil energy would developing countries be allowed to use?
The answer, revealed in Eule’s next chart, is not much.
The first two bars show industrial (Annex I) and developing country (Non-Annex I) emissions in 2010 and projected baseline emissions in 2050.
The next two bars show a scenario in which industrial countries miraculously reduce their emissions to zero in 2050. For the world to meet the 60-by-50 target, developing countries would still have to reduce their emissions 38% below current levels — from 31.6 gigatons in 2010 to 19.6 gigatons in 2050.
The last two bars show a scenario in which industrial countries more realistically (or less unrealistically) reduce their emissions 80% by 2050. Developing would then have to reduce their emissions 49% below current levels — from 31.6 gigatons to 16.1 gigatons.
Although miraculous breakthroughs in the cost and performance of non-emitting energy technologies could happen, it is in the nature of breakthroughs that they can’t be predicted or planned. At this point, nobody has any frackin’ idea how to eradicate global hunger and poverty while forcing energy-poor developing countries to use only half the fossil fuels they do now.
I am reminded of John Christy’s wise words: “If it’s not economically sustainable, it’s not sustainable.” Alas, millions of people could still get hurt along the way before the wretched thing falls apart.