Back in March, this blog showcased two charts exposing the unsustainability of the European Union’s proposal, in the current round of climate treaty negotiations, to cap global carbon dioxide-equivalent (CO2e) greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions at 60% below 2010 levels by 2050. The charts were created by U.S. Chamber of Commerce VP for climate and technology Stephen Eule, based on his preliminary assessment of the scale of effort required to meet the EU 60-by-50 target.
Yesterday, Eule posted a commentary with updated versions of the charts. The first updated chart appears immediately below.
The EU proposal clearly requires a rapid reversal of the baseline emissions trajectory projected by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) Environmental Outlook to 2050. Under current climate and energy policies, global emissions are projected to increase by 67% between 2010 and 2050. To reduce emissions 60% below 2010 levels, emissions must decline a whopping 76% below the baseline projection. Eule comments:
So reaching “60-by-50” is not as simple as just cutting 2010 emissions by 29 gigatons, which would be a huge task in and of itself. It also means avoiding more than 30 gigatons of future emissions, some of which have already happened. This is a staggering amount, equivalent to eliminating total U.S. GHG emissions every 3.8 years between now and 2050.
What must industrial and developing countries do, respectively, to meet the 60-by-50 target? That’s the topic of Eule second updated chart.
Suppose, instead of growing to 24.2 gigatons in 2050, industrial country emissions magically decline to zero. For the world to meet the 60-by-50 goal, developing country emissions would still have to decline to 19.4 gigatons. That’s about 35% below current developing country emissions. If more realistically (or less unrealistically) industrial country emissions decline by 80% below 2010 levels, developing country emissions must decline to 15.6 gigatons, or about 48% below current levels.
Note: Billions of people in developing countries have little or no access to modern commercial energy, nearly 87% of which comes from carbon fuels (BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2014, p. 40). How developing countries could cut emissions 35% to 48% below current levels and still eradicate poverty is anybody’s guess. As Eule observes:
As a practical matter, this would mean that all of the increase in developing country energy supply in 2050 compared to 2010 would have to be zero-emitting. The reality is, of course, that these countries continue to build fossil fuel plants with abandon.
Also unknown is how the United States, for example, could cut emissions 80% below 2010 levels without severely constraining GDP growth. According to Eule:
Cutting U.S. emissions 80% by 2050 would shrink the country’s “carbon footprint,” relative to its economy and population, to levels today seen only in poverty-stricken countries Haiti, Afghanistan, North Korea and Chad. It is hard to imagine how an energy-hungry, highly-developed country with a population projected to grow to more than 400 million people could realistically cut emissions so drastically in such a short space of time.
Again I am reminded of climatologist John Christy’s words of caution: “If it’s not economically sustainable, it’s not sustainable.”