Some seem to believe that a EU emission decrease will have a huge effect on world emissions, as is shown in this curious tweet from a Belgian politician (my emphasis):
Without getting the EU climate neutral, you will not get the world below 2 degrees C. And if we do not achieve that, the costs and losses cannot be foreseen.
This is a bold statement and it doesn’t make much sense. Firstly, the EU emissions were in the order of 10-11% of world emissions in 2018 and secondly, developing countries like China and India have strongly rising emissions without engagements to lower them, so their emissions are very likely to further increase in the future, likely even after 2030. Africa will likely follow soon.
He rightfully got criticized for that in the reactions on the tweet. In this post, I want to go a step further and try to find out how EU emissions relate to global emissions and to what extent these are big enough to compensate for the increase from the developing regions.
Time to look at the data. I already had the BP Statistical Review of World Energy on my computer and it has a sheet detailing emission data.
My first plan was to take the big regions in the world and plot those, but there were some interesting countries that would drown in those bigger numbers. Therefor I separated the numbers of the US from North-America, Australia/New Zealand from Pacific Asia and of course the EU countries from Europe. However, not all EU countries were detailed in the BP data, only 27. The missing country is Malta. It is in the category “Other Europe” because it is so small, so that will not make much of a difference anyway.
I threw all that data in a spreadsheet and this is what Calc spitted out:
There are some interesting trends. As expected, only two regions lowered emissions: the EU and the US (in spite of being criticized for not subscribing to the Paris Agreement). Stable emissions are seen in Australia/New Zealand, “Other Asia” and “Other North-America”. All other countries/regions have rising emissions. Remember, this is three years after the planet was allegedly saved in Paris.
What if we now assume that the countries stay on the same course they were on in the last decade? I will draw a straight line with the same trend until 2030.
There is one obvious problem: China’s emissions went up very fast from the beginning of the 2000s, then stabilized and the last few years it started to increase again. I guess that the initial large increase will not continue, but I think emissions will keep rising, so I will project the same trend as after the bend.
This is how it looks like:
When I do a back-of-the-envelop calculation of the difference between the decreased and the increased emissions, then I get +222 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. This means that the decrease of emission of the EU and US will not even compensate for the increase of the rest, let alone limit global temperature increase to 2 °C. This is the result of not only lowering EU emissions, but also lowering US emissions.
Yeah, would you say, but the EU is not necessarily going to lower its emissions at the same rate as in the previous decade. Its goal is zero emissions by 2050. Calculating a straight trend line until 2050 for the EU only gives this result (look at the dark green line):
That is a bit steeper downwards than we seen in the last decade, but again it obviously doesn’t compensate for the increase of the other countries that will have increasing emissions. There is still a surplus of 168 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. So, emissions will still increase globally, despite the intentions of the EU.
Going a step further: what is needed to limit global temperature increase to 2 °C? According to the IPCC SR15 summary for policymakers:
C.1. In model pathways with no or limited overshoot of 1.5°C, global net anthropogenic CO2 emissions decline by about 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 (40–60% interquartile range), reaching net zero around 2050 (2045–2055 interquartile range). For limiting global warming to below 2°C CO2 emissions are projected to decline by about 25% by 2030 in most pathways (10–30% interquartile range) and reach net zero around 2070 (2065–2080 interquartile range).
If I read that correctly, global emissions were projected to drop 25% from 2010 levels by 2030. Global emissions were 31,058 million tonnes carbon dioxide in 2010, 25% less means a maximum of 23,293 million tonnes by 2030.
If all countries/regions with increasing emissions will stabilize their emissions between 2020 and 2030, then total emissions still amounts to 32.000+ million tonnes. So, to get to 23,000+ tonnes, the countries with currently rising emissions will have to lower their emissions too. By how much? When I keep the 2050 EU deadline and decrease emissions of all other countries, then this is necessary to get at 23,000+ tonnes:
It seems that all countries will roughly have to do the same effort that the EU is wanting to implement. The chance that China and India decrease their emissions with more than 3% in the near future is likely a beautiful round number.
Another scenario: what if we let China and India emit and try to compensate for that by decreasing emissions in all other countries (including the EU) at the same rate? Then this is what we get:
Then a 7% decrease from 2020 until 2030 is needed for all other countries/regions. Also, the EU then needs to be “climate neutral” already by 2044 (instead of 2050 as intended) and the rest of the developing countries will have to refrain from developing.
This is just a quick-and-dirty calculation, but it indicates that the intention of the EU to lower its emissions will not have much effect globally, let alone influence the climate.
So unless he means something different with the statement “the world will not get below 2 °C without the EU getting climate neutral” than that the world will not get below 2 °C without the EU getting climate neutral, his statement is obviously strongly overestimating the effect of the EU on global emissions.