First published 17 February 2016
A recent blog expressed some doubt as to how the necessary national CO2 emissions would be agreed and achieved. China has only committed to date to ensure emissions decline after 2030. India has only committed to reduce its emissions per unit of economic output by about 34% by 2030. Thus if GDP increases by 100% in that time (15 years compound growth of slightly less than 5%pa) emissions could increase by one third. If, as is likely, GDP growth is strongest in the services sector then a reduction in emissions per unit output is likely anyway. India’s coal output is planned to double by 2020 and some 171 additional GW of coal generated electricity likely (adding say four times SA’s installed capacity). They also intend to instal a similar amount of renewable energy capacity, which sounds good, but doesn’t amount to available capacity at any one time and still leaves the additional coal burn. If India argues that limiting emissions growth by increasing the renewable proportion to this extent, while increasing absolute emissions, is making a reasonable commitment to reduce greenhouse gasses and given that many other countries are at a similar stage of development then where are the required emission reductions to come from. Is the self-congratulation of the Paris participants warranted when two of the three top emitters are projecting this scenario or are they just satisfied that a framework has been established with possibly no reasonable prospect of the goal being achieved. The time to celebrate will be when we see a spreadsheet of the world’s countries with annual emissions projected forward based on feasible committed projects giving total emissions consistent with limiting CO2 levels to those supposedly necessary to prevent a more than 2°C rise in temperatures. Until then it seems as though we could be seeing a bunch of self congratulatory politicians saying they have done their bit.