Behind the headlines; how low carbon is quietly changing the world


Despite Donald Trump’s ongoing dismantling of US environmental measures, there remains a fair chunk of positive news out there for the global low carbon lobby, says our enviro markets guru, Giles Crosse.

Economic growth and emissions finally decoupled

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has revealed that global energy-related carbon emissions remained flat in 2016.

Global emissions from the energy sector stood at 32.1 gigatonnes last year, the same as the previous 2 years, while the global economy grew 3.1%, according to estimates from the IEA.

Carbon dioxide emissions declined in the United States and China, and were stable in Europe, offsetting increases in most of the rest of the world. In China, emissions fell by 1% last year, as coal demand declined while the economy expanded by 6.7%.

In the EU, emissions were largely stable last year as coal demand fell 10%. The United Kingdom saw a significant coal-to-gas switching in the power sector, thanks to cheaper gas and a carbon price floor.

The pause in emissions growth is not enough to put Earth on a sub 2°C path, but it represents a major win for global low carbon. It acts as unassailable proof the world can still operate effectively on a low carbon footing.

“These three years of flat emissions in a growing global economy signal an emerging trend and that is certainly a cause for optimism, even if it is too soon to say that global emissions have definitely peaked,” said Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA’s Executive Director.

Tech growth can spur low-carbon energy system and save $1.6trn

The ‘Beyond the Supercycle’ paper from the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) says proliferation of energy efficiency measures, and increased substitution of fossil fuels enabled by cost reductions in renewables would offer value to the global economy in 2035 of between $900 billion to $1.6 trillion.

But, this can only be banked if the world adopts burgeoning new tech willingly. EDIE quotes MGI’s Director Jonathan Woetzel; “It is technology that is driving the shifts.

“Our new research shows that the global economy has a significant opportunity to make substantial savings on energy in the next two decades by adopting and embracing technological change. But those savings are not guaranteed.”

As ever, willingness at political level to inspire the next generation of low carbon tech remains crucial.

Good news at home

The BBC reports Britain’s low carbon energy revolution is actually saving money for households. The BBC says they make a net saving of £11 a month, according to analysis from the Committee on Climate Change.

It calculates that subsidies to wind and solar are adding £9 a month to the average bill, but that rules promoting energy efficiency save £20 a month.

Crucially, as Britain prepares to exit the EU, The Committee forecasts a continuing trend of downward prices thanks to low carbon policy.

The prediction will place pressure on the Government to maintain its low carbon stance, and to show some sense of leadership on how existing EU regulations, largely responsible for UK progress on low carbon, will be transposed into UK law.

The CCC predicts an annual bill reduction of £150 by 2030, driven by a mass switch to LED lights, and full take-up of more efficient condensing gas boilers.

Iain Wright MP, Chair of the Commons Business and Energy Committee, said: “The Government must be mindful of the burden that decarbonisation policies can place on businesses and ensure that they remain competitive.

“[But] the big energy companies are too quick to blame green policies from Government for unjustifiable price increases. There are enormous opportunities in the UK moving to a low carbon economy.”


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