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The Developed World Shows Dramatic Improvements in Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Emissions/China Sets Ambitious Carbon Goals, Business and Industry Trends Analysis

Concern about carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and air quality are global.  China’s rapid industrialization has led to massive air quality problems in its cities (and to water quality problems in many parts of the nation.)  Other emerging nations continue to face similar challenges as they attempt to balance rapid expansion and sustainable development goals.  Air quality can be so poor in New Delhi, India at times that it is difficult to see and challenging for airplanes to land.  The looming industrialization of the continent of Africa will pose the same types of challenges.  The International Energy Agency (IEA) publishes global reports on CO2 emissions, those that result from fuel combustion.  Since one of the IEA’s primary functions is to track global usage of such energy sources as oil and coal, it is reasonable for them to estimate the carbon output from those fuels.  The situation in 2013 worsened, with the IEA reporting a rise in CO2 emissions by 2.9% to 32.2 billion tons worldwide (the 2013 figure is the latest data available).

The good news was from developed nations such as America.  In 2013, emissions in the developed world fell.  In the U.S., for example, CO2 emissions dropped by 15.7% (returning to the level in 1990), while all OECD countries dropped by 7.2%, according to the IEA.  This decrease was in spite of higher populations, higher economic activity and greater numbers of cars, trucks and aircraft.  America is making very significant progress in this regard thanks to the rapidly growing adoption of natural gas as an alternative to coal—a direct result of the discoveries of massive amounts of gas in shale fields.

Europe saw its emission levels in 2013 fall by 2%, according to IEA figures.  This was due to the economic slowdown, growth in the use of renewable energy (although the use of coal for electricity is growing in Germany) and emissions caps on industrial and power companies.  The Global Carbon Project forecasted record-breaking emissions worldwide of 40 billion tones in 2014, however, the EU was expected to reduce its carbon emissions by 1.8% over 2013.

In the EU, a cap-and-trade program has been in place since 2005 and is now the largest in the world.  The system is a complex market in which heavy carbon-emitting industries can buy carbon credits from projects that cut emissions if they exceed specified caps. However, the EU has encountered vast difficulties in creating a viable market for carbon credits.

The emerging world, including China, is a different story.  When emerging nations enjoy high economic growth rates, they tend to greatly increase their use of fossil fuels and their output of carbon emissions and other types of pollution.  Thanks to rapid growth of industrial output and electricity usage, as well as high growth in the use of cars and other transportation, emissions are rising exponentially in the developing world, especially in China and India.  By January 2013, Beijing’s fine particulate matter (known as PM 2.5) hit 40 times the exposure limit recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).  In a five-year, $277 billion plan for the period 2013-2018, China set goals to improve energy efficiency while cutting pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.  Specifically, the plan focuses on the northern area of Beijing-Tianjian-Hebei area, with a goal of reducing fine particulate matter by 25%.  Meanwhile, in India, the Delhi Pollution Committee reported that average PM 2.5 concentrations in Delhi have been approximately 45% higher than in Beijing (based on data gathered by the U.S. Embassy) during a two year period from January 2013 through January 2015.

The world’s great challenge in regulating carbon output is to enhance the global adoption of clean technologies and energy efficiency to the extent that emissions are brought under control, but to do so in a manner that does not stifle the global economy.  Coming developments in technologies for energy conservation, cleaner transport, more efficient buildings and factories, along with clean alternatives to the traditional burning of coal for electric generation all offer tremendous promise.  Perhaps the greatest reduction in emissions will come from carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology over the very long term, if cost-effective technologies can be proven.



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