Emissions slowdown

I thought I would post this video of Glen Peters discussing the three years we’ve just had in which there has been near-zero growth in emissions. You can use a Kaya-like identity to try and understand what might be causing emissions to have stalled. What’s probably caused the near-zero growth in emissions is probably (in China in particular) a combination of a slowdown in GDP growth, an increase in energy efficiency (energy/GDP), and a reduction in the amount of CO2 released per unit of energy (a combination of switching from coal to gas and an increase in the use of renewables).

CO_2 = GDP \times \dfrac{energy}{GDP} \times \dfrac{CO_2}{energy}.

A key point in the talk is that these could all be signs that emissions might peak sooner than expected, but that this will require some kind policies to lock in. Also, achieving some kind of temperature target will also require emissions to actually reduce, not simpy stall. That will probably require increased deployment of renewables (which is apparently progressing about as well as can be expected) along with the deployment of some heavy-hitters, like nuclear and CCS (which are not progressing particular well). We can’t really say yet if emissions have acually peaked, but it’s at least a sign that it might happen sooner than we might have expected. Anyway, that’s all I need to say (probably more than I need to say).

Glen Peters’ post about this topic.

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32 Responses to Emissions slowdown

  1. If emissions actually plateau/stop increasing altogether, we are still in big trouble because we have to reduce the CO2 in atmosphere. Peters mentions that at abt 7:17 when he says it’s somewhat silly to be talking about peaking because emissions need to go down and that’s more of a challenge that peaking. There is also the question of new and increasing “natural” sources of CO2 emissions that may drive the actual CO2 ppm in atmosphere higher even as we create very solid studies with great graphics showing that we are responding to the problem that we have created. I don’t think this can be over-stressed. The actual level of CO2 in the atmosphere needs to stop going up and start going down. If that does not happen, even the most serious adjustments that we make to reduce our “emissions” mean very little because the actual level of CO2 ppm in the atmosphere is the important number. It is a solid number that is measured accurately and is immune from alternative facts.

    On that note:

    Daily CO2

    April 8, 2017: 407.78 ppm
    April 8, 2016: 409.39 ppm

    We have seen a couple of inversion days in April where the current measure is lower than the measure on same day last year. Unfortunately, I think this is related to some really spiky days in 2016, but it is still comforting in some ways to see inversion days. Now we need inversion weeks and inversion months. Lots of them. ASAP.

    Warm regards


  2. John Hartz says:

    ATTP: A number of articles about this purported emissions pause have recently been published. For example…

    Americans Used A Lot Less Coal in 2016; Here’s Why by Bobby Magill, Climate Central, Apr 7, 2017

    I say “purported” because I question how accurate the emmission numbers are. I doubt that all the countries of the world are computing the numbers in a uniformly rigorous manner. If you or others can shed some light on this issue, please do so. I have not come across any recently publsihed discussions of this matter — but I have not been seacrhing for them either.

  3. John Hartz says:

    Serendipity at work!

    About an hour after posting my initial comment, I happened to come across the following,,,

    A lot has happened since countries met in Paris in 2015 and agreed on an accord to combat climate change. So far, more than 140 countries have ratified or otherwise joined the Paris Agreement, representing more than 80 percent of global emissions. Several major economies, including Canada, Germany and Mexico, have also developed long-term plans to decarbonize their economies.

    As countries implement their targets and policies and develop more detailed pathways to reduce their emissions, it’s important to fully understand our global emissions picture and how it has changed over time. WRI recently updated its CAIT Climate Data Explorer on the world’s top greenhouse gas-emitting countries with the latest global data available (2013). Here’s an interactive chart to explore it by country and by economic sector, showing how the top emitters have changed in recent years.

    This Interactive Chart Explains World’s Top 10 Emitters, and How They’ve Changed by Johannes Friedrich, Mengpin Ge & Andrew Pickens, World Resources Instute {WRI) , Apr 11, 2017

    The interactive graphic developed by the WRI is truly an amazing tool.

  4. Good. One more expansion.
    Replace [ GDP ] with: [ P * ( GDP / P ) ]

    Where P is population.

    Then consider that P = Pyoung + Pworking_age + Pold
    While our children and grandparents are certainly dear and important, they are not so important to GDP.

    Considering these terms, the nations with the highest GDP are also ones with largely falling working age populations, so it’s not a surprise that CO2 emissions are falling:

    Global warming ( and many other issues ) will be largely an African story because that’s more and more where the world population will be greatest.

  5. MikeH says:

    Glen Peters also has an excellent blog. This article may answer some of questions that have been raised here.


  6. Jamie B says:

    I’m sure when I looked on my phone there was a post on here about uncertainty of emissions estimates but it seems to have disappeared. Anyway, this new CCC report has a useful chart (Figure 2.5) comparing the uncertainty in GHG inventories in different countries:


  7. Mike,
    Thanks, that is a good post. I’ve added it to the end of my post.

  8. Jamie,
    I don’t think there was any such comment/post, but thanks for the link to the report.

  9. Jamie B says:

    Ah no it’s still here. It was John’s comment above

    “I say “purported” because I question how accurate the emmission numbers are. I doubt that all the countries of the world are computing the numbers in a uniformly rigorous manner. If you or others can shed some light on this issue, please do so. I have not come across any recently publsihed discussions of this matter — but I have not been seacrhing for them either.”

    So it was rigorousness rather than uncertainty although it’s interesting that there’s so much uncertainty in countries which are doubtless quite rigorous! Certainly makes you wonder about the less rigorous countries’ reporting.

  10. Andrew Dodds says:

    The emissions pause seems to be driven by China ceasing to increase emissions – China does seem to have considerable scope to lower emissions just from efficiency increases. Europe has generally been on a downward track in emissions for years, if not a very steep downward track.

    The next problem might be India; if India keeps up it’s plans to expand coal power then that will offset much of the work being done elsewhere…

  11. Greg Robie says:

    I find the omission of the adjective “anthropogenic” in communication like Glen’s abusive of the concept of factual communication. Doesn’t it, in fact, approximate the ‘willful ignorance’ aspect of lying, or propaganda? Perhaps, because the tone of voice that is employed, it falls into the ‘social convention’ aspects of lying. Whatever it is, given both what is said and, particularly, what isn’t said (atmospheric emissions are rising, not trending with this alleged tabling of anthropogenic emissions), a messaging is occurring that countermands the truth of our reality; is duplicitous?

    I give Glen Peters a four out of five Pinocchioes for this presentation. ATTP, does this “all I need to say …” intro merit three of ’em?


    sNAILmALEnotHAIL …but pace’n myself



  12. Greg,
    I suspect the issue is that he wouldn’t expect that to be necessary, given the audience. It’s only when you delve into the blogosphere/social media, that you realise that you sometimes need to be extremely precise in order to avoid the pedants who’s main goal is to confuse.

  13. John Hartz says:

    As an aside, the word anthropogenic is what i call “science-speak.” If you want to communicate with the average person, use manmade instead.

  14. paulski0 says:

    In a recent thread here I highlighted Nigeria as a case study of a possible issue with CO2 emissions inventories. This is the CDIAC data by country for reference. It suggests Nigerian CO2 emissions have slightly declined since the early-2000s and increased by only about 40% over the past 30 years despite rapid population (doubled since the mid-1980s) and GDP growth. If this picture were anywhere close to reality it would be an economic miracle which should surely be promoted as the blueprint for the world.

    I suspect the reality is that the largely informal decentralised nature of Nigerian energy production means that a substantial proportion of their CO2 emissions are literally off the grid and not properly counted. Looking at natural gas emissions alone may give a more realistic picture of trends since natural gas is the main source for what electricity grid there is. They indicate about a five-fold increase over the past 30 years.

    I further suspect that this apparent under-reporting of CO2 emissions growth is likely to be replicated to some extent in other rapidly growing countries since many of those also have limited centralised grid power, with the result that recent emissions may be slightly underestimated in these inventories.

    Another counter-intuitive thing I noticed in the global carbon budget data, which includes preliminary estimates up to 2015, was the slow reported growth of global emissions from burning natural gas over the past few years – near historically low levels. This seems wildly at odds with the popular notion of a natural gas revolution.

  15. The Very Reverend Jebediah Hypotenuse says:

    Two things.

    The Keeling curve continues to break records.

    I suspect that our emissions estimates are actually emissions underestimates.

    CO2 is only part of our predicament.


  16. John Hartz says:

    TVRJH: You state:

    CO2 is only part of our predicament.

    True, but it is also the largest part.

  17. I believe we need to think about the carbon cycle in a more wholistic way and stop talking so much about about anthropogenic carbon dioxide. A better frame for discussion would be on a planetary carbon cycle that has moved out of the range that favors a relatively stable climate.

    In that frame, we are facing a runaway CO2 and global warming cycle that puts the livable ecosphere at risk. It would allow us to move from discussion of manmade/anthropogenic vs. “natural” CO2 sources to the root problem of CO2 in the atmosphere. In the end, it won’t matter if the CO2 that “gets” us is from burning coal or thawing permafrost or decaying methane. I focus on one number: the MLO CO2 number. It is a pretty solid and hard number. All the spinning of emission numbers or missed emissions in the calculations don’t budge that number one iota.

    Yes, our species appears to be primarily responsible for the disruption of a pretty stable planetary carbon cycle, but so what? Aren’t we just another part of this planetary ecosystem? Natural? Unnatural? Very silly questions imho. We can deal with the challenge of getting the carbon cycle back to a safe range or we can face the consequences. Spinning the story of the sixth major extinction event is very silly. CO2 numbers go up, we go down.

    April 11 2017 daily average? 409.14 per MLO.


    Dr. Mann said in 2014 that we should keep that number under 405. Uh-oh…

    you connect the dots kemosabe.

  18. John Hartz says:

    paulsko: Generally speaking and for obvious reasons, we should focus our scrutiny on the world’s largets emiters such as the US, China, India, etc.

    Re China, it is my understanding (and I could be wrong) that the proceudres it has in place for computing emissions are not all that sophisticated. I suspect that to be the case for India as well.

    There are multiple reasons why it is vitally important for all countries to use a standard set* of processes for computing CO2 emissions and to make those computations in a transparent manner that can be monitored by the international community. I believe that the Paris agreement may address this can of worms, but I am not sure it does as of this posting. (I plan to investigate this further when I have the time to do so.)

    *Standard sets of processes might be grouped by country socio-econmic factors..

  19. John Hartz says:

    SBM: On the other hand, the human race has to focus on what it can control, i.e., manmade C02 emissions.

  20. John Hartz says:

    Because of the excellent graphics embeeded in the article, I encourage everyone to check out:

    Atmospheric CO2 levels accelerate upwards, smashing records by Barry Saxifrage, National Observer, Apr 10, 2017

  21. JH: I agree and I realize that we have tackled the problem in the context of manmade CO2 emissions. We have spent a lot of effort on problem solution in the frame of manmade emissions, the Paris agreement is the most recent edifice in that work.

    The problem with that approach is that it fractures a global problem into artificial problem/solution frames. Here is an example: To the extent that it is possible to fix CO2 in the soil through changes in our agricultural system, this solution is out of sight if the discussion is about manmade CO2 emission outputs, but it is clearly in sight if the discussion is about reeling in a carbon cycle that is out of control.

    I guess it is possible that the fans of economic growth at any cost could defund things like MLO and make it more difficult for any single person to have a good measure on how we are doing, but until that happens, a source like MLO is so much more meaningful in identifying the problem and measuring how we are doing at addressing the problem than a discussion of manmade emissions.

    At the very least, I think that every discussion of manmade emissions should lead (or prominently display) the global carbon cycle numbers that are at our fingertips. In the absence of that balance, a lot of global citizens are easily confused into thinking that a discussions like Peters that suggests we may have reached the peak of CO2 emissions sounds much rosier than it should.

    April 11, 2017 409.14

    Dr. Mann said in 2014, keep it under 405 ppm.

    If we have peaked and the result of a plateau of carbon emissions is the sixth great extinction event, then we should work to be clear about that situation.

    I don’t think that any regular posters here fail to understand this situation. The target population for my carbon cycle discussion are the the readers and lurkers who cruise through the site and feel reassured by something like the Peters video.

    exstinctio venire



  22. Excellent linkage there JH. That produces the balance needed to understand something like the Peters video.

    exstinctio venire!

    warm regards


  23. John Hartz says:

    Mike: One of the overarching problems confronting the human race re manmade climate change:

    Time is not on our side!

  24. Canman says:

    I just ran across this chart and post showing just how marginal wind and solar in Germany were for 2016:


    Renewable energy is mostly hydro, which is close to its limit, and biomass, which means burning stuff. Geothermal and tides are minuscule. The expandable parts are wind and solar (2.1% and 1.2%, respectively of total German energy consumption) and they would have to grow by almost two orders of magnitude!

  25. Canman,
    Not quite sure what your point is; that it’s unlikely that we will soon see large reductions (or maybe even any) in our emissions? If so, then I largely agree; I suspect emissions have not yet peaked.

  26. The Very Reverend Jebediah Hypotenuse says:


    The expandable parts are wind and solar (2.1% and 1.2%, respectively of total German energy consumption) and they would have to grow by almost two orders of magnitude!

    And nuclear.

    Yes – I know nuclear is not “renewable” energy – but it is low-carbon-emission.
    And that is what really matters right now.

  27. tw2017 says:

    We also need to see if the latest China figures change over time, or not. In this post,
    Glen Peters note successive revisions to China figure (near the bottom of the article.) He goes on to state:

    There has also been a much larger drop in production data compared to consumption data, and this is the cause of much confusion. This could reflect significant changes in stock piles, trade patterns, or bad reporting.

    Care is required not to over interpret Chinese coal consumption data, and make sure to cross check with other independent indicators.

  28. Mal Adapted says:

    If the principal source of data for annual emissions statistics is self-reporting by country, an obvious data QA/QC problem arises. I googled perfunctorily for an update on direct CO2 observation by satellite, and got the notion there’s hope for attributing emissions at least to countries or regions. How’d I do? Am I more, like, Galileo or Simplicio?

  29. Greg Robie says:

    Aren’t Anthropogenic/manmade/for-women-made/etc., as adjectives, ALL linguistic challenges when it come to simply communicating facts? Things that are important in a culture have a single word. For example Hawaiians have lots of specific words for different types of wind. The Inuit have a rich vocabulary for types of snow. Western cultures have lots of words for nuances concerning greed-as-go[o]d. My discipline to use the compound term CapitalismFail is my effort to mentor the communication of needed psychological dissonance in a single word. I intend to do the same with AbruptClimateChange, though as a compound word, this is mostly on Twitter and as a hashtag.

    Unlike MotivatedReasoning and sociopsycoimmunoneuroendocrinology (SPINE), which I think I may have coined, I’ve adopted those previous terms/phrases from others. There is a short term social cost for doing this due to such being an outlier behavior. But without a change in the lexicon of the common language the ability of socially conventioned ignorance continues to thrive, communication of scientific knowledge confined to protected ivory towers.

    If one is right, one is only ‘weird’ for a relatively short while when communicating that truth. We live at a time when such ‘weirdness’ does not get one burned at the stake … only, if one is professionally one of society’s “scientist priests” & responsible for keeping a lab funded, marginalized in the competition for limited funding. Don’t some SPINEs defer to fear regarding funding threats and let various iterations of ignorance trump facts by adapting increasingly irrelevant language; rationalize obfuscating pragmatism concerning clear and consistent communication; activate motivated reasoning and “lie”?

    JH: my read of the language of the Paris Agreement is that the only enumerated role agreed to for science is the vetting of claimed emissions … and this is in the service of vetting carbon offsets (check out “internationally transferred mitigation outcomes” and the role of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice in Section III, 38-41; Article 6, 1-9). The discussions of the efficacy of carbon taxes in this blog space are all well and good, but are limited to national policies. The Paris Agreement embrace carbon offsets without a carbon budget. This was likely an Obama/Clinton game theory enabled ‘gift’ to Wall Street/for our Western financial center overlords. Physics is SO shackled under CapitalismFail. Thanks to motivated reasoning the affected incapacity to ThinkDif’rent is, functionally, religious-like.

    WORD!/? 😉

    sNAILmALEnotHAIL …but pace’n myself




  30. Susan Anderson says:

    Suppose one is overweight. The first thing is to slow the rate of increase. Then stop the rate of increase. Then start decreasing the rate of increase. At some point, the increase actually stops, but that’s the fourth stage of weight loss, which is to level off. The we can begin to decrease the actual quantity in question, the threat to our future on what we so easily take for granted.

    What most of us miss, in this semantic game, is that slowing the rate of increase is a very long way from a decrease. We are at that point, two stages away from leveling, and three stages away from an actual decrease.

    It is sad but true that making excuses for not cutting back uses a series of lies and evasions to avoid the necessary conditions for human survival, let alone comfort, on our once hospitable planet.

  31. “Things that are important in a culture have a single word. ”

    quite the opposite.


    There are some other famous examples, ( one of which does a cameo appearance in the Sot Weed factor)


    dont give up your day job,

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