Dark Outlook for Poland Climate Talks

The world’s climate specialists, gathering for a fortnight of talks in Poland, are being greeted by an array of bad news that complicates any chance that the countries will be able to meet the already-tenuous goal of holding temperature increases to 1.5C by 2030.

Perhaps the biggest blow is the riots in France, which forced President Emmanuel Macron this week to back away at least temporarily from a planned carbon tax contained in a gas price increase slated to take place in January. The planned increase of €0.03 (US3.4¢) per liter of gas and €0.06 per liter of diesel will come into effect six months later.

In Washington State in the US, voters turned down a US$15 per tonne carbon tax in November, an indication of the seeming impossibility of imposing the most realistic attempt at controlling greenhouse gases. By one estimate, a carbon tax of US$250 per tonne by 2020 across the globe is going to be necessary if it is possible to meet goals.

The French decision to bend to protesters’ demands spurred a triumphant – and apparently erroneous -- tweet from US President Donald Trump that “There are riots in socialist France because of radical leftist fuel taxes. Media barely mentioning this. America is booming, Europe is burning. They want to cover up the middle-class rebellion against cultural Marxism. 'We want Trump' being chanted through the streets of Paris."

But the backdrop to that was a statement by the International Energy Agency, a 29-member organization made up of most of the world’s advanced economies, on Dec. 5 that for the first time in five years, the advanced economies’ carbon dioxide emissions will rise, the latest indication of the enormous task ahead of the world if it is to mitigate climate change.

“Based on the latest available energy data, energy-related CO2 emissions in North America, the European Union and other advanced economies in Asia Pacific grew, as higher oil and gas use more than offset declining coal consumption,” according to a press statement from the 29-member IEA, most of those members are the advanced economies. As a result, the IEA expects CO2 emissions in these economies to increase by around 0.5 percent in 2018.

The so-called Congress of Parties is meeting for its 24th year in Katowice, Poland, to take stock of attempts to limit emissions against the backdrop of the US’s own Fourth National Climate Assessment, issued on Nov. 24, which states that “in the absence of significant global mitigation action and regional adaptation efforts, rising temperatures, sea level rise, and changes in extreme events are expected to increasingly disrupt and damage critical infrastructure and property, labor productivity, and the vitality of our communities” and that continued growth in emissions is expected to cause annual losses in some economic sectors of hundreds of billions of dollars by the end of the century—"more than the current gross domestic product (GDP) of many U.S. states.”

According to the report, that includes US$141 billion from heat-related deaths, US$118 billion from sea level rise and US$32 billion from infrastructure damage. That figure for infrastructure damage may be low. California’s fires in 2017 cost US$2.5 billion in damage claims and 2018, with the most destructive fire in the state’s history, may exceed that.

Add to that emissions. The California fires put more carbon dioxide into the air than the state’s other emissions combined.

Although the growth in global emissions is lower than the 2.4 percent rise in global economic growth, it is particularly worrisome for global efforts to meet the Paris Agreement, the landmark agreement hammered out in 2015 by 195 state parties, and which President Donald Trump has opted out of . “Countries are gathered at the COP24 climate conference this week and next to take stock of efforts to limit emissions,” the IEA said. “Global energy-related CO2 emissions need to peak as soon as possible and then enter a steep decline for countries to meet climate goals.

The IEA’s full global energy and CO2 data for 2018 will be released next March, “but all indications point to emissions growth globally, driven by rising energy use and a global economy expanding by 3.7 percent.

“Our data shows that despite the strong growth in solar PV and wind, emissions have started to rise again in advanced economies, highlighting the need for deploying all technologies and energy efficiency,” said Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA’s Executive Director, in the prepared release. “This turnaround should be another warning to governments as they meet in Katowice this week. Increasing efforts are needed to encourage even more renewables, greater energy efficiency, more nuclear, and more innovation for technologies such as carbon capture, utilisation and storage and hydrogen, for instance.”

Energy-related CO2 emissions from advanced economies fell by around 3 percent, or close to 400 million tonnes, over the past five years, the IEA said, as the world swung away from coal consumption and renewable sources of energy grew rapidly along with the spread of more efficient equipment and appliances, and coal-to-gas switching, especially in the United States, the United Kingdom, and elsewhere.

“Global oil demand is set to grow robustly in 2018, global gas use is also increasing strongly, pushed in particular by Chinese policies aiming to curb air pollution in cities, while large numbers of new coal power plants continue to be built and come online,” according to the IEA, which expects that to lead to a growth in global CO2 emissions in 2018.

“This growth will follow last year’s 1.6 percent increase, which ended a three-year period of flat emissions between 2014 and 2016. In the IEA’s Sustainable Development Scenario, which is aligned with the goals of the Paris Agreement as well as lower air pollution and universal energy access, global emissions fall by over 1 percent every year to 2025.”