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Global Economy Decarbonizes at Record Clip, But Still Short of 2° Target

Brian Robert Marshall/Geograph
Brian Robert Marshall/Geograph

The global economy is doing more with far less in the way of greenhouse gas emissions, a report this week by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) finds. But the conclusion showing a “step change in the decarbonization of the global economy” is tempered by a warning that the improvement “still falls far short” of what’s needed to meet the Paris Agreement goal of holding average global warming to below 2.0ºC.

Globally, humanity cut the amount of emissions released for every dollar of gross economic product by 2.8% in 2015, a record improvement and more than twice the average of 1.3% over the last 15 years, according to PwC’s eighth annual Low Carbon Economy Index of G-20 countries.

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For the first time, China led in reducing its carbon intensity, followed by Britain and the United States. “Coal consumption falling has been the most significant factor in levelling China’s emissions, and is partly the result of policies to improve air quality and power plant efficiency,” the company wrote. “And although it is a small part of China’s economy, solar power grew by 70% in 2015.”

Canada, along with Mexico and South Africa, also exceeded carbon intensity reduction targets set in Paris, PwC added, “demonstrating signs for the second year running that emissions growth is decoupling from economic growth.”

Nonetheless, “while this year marks a step change in the decarbonization of the global economy,” the report warns, “2015’s high point is less than half of what is actually required to limit global warming to the levels committed to in the Paris Agreement.”

“The world economy decarbonized at record levels,” said Jonathan Grant, the accounting group’s sustainability and climate change director, “but it still falls far short of the rapid reductions needed. On business as usual trends, we’ll use up the 2.0°C global carbon budget by 2036. If governments want to hit the global goal, they need to raise their targets immediately and do much more to accelerate low-carbon investment.”

“To stay within the 2.0° carbon budget,” Grant added, “the annual reduction in carbon intensity now needs to reach 6.5%.” Previous research has indicated that carbon intensity must be pushed down by as much as 10% per year if humanity hopes to stabilize the climate.

And Grant warned that “the global challenge gets tougher with each passing year” that nations delay more stringent action.