06:14 11.02.2020

The US cut its CO2 emissions more than any other country in the world in 2019, helping to keep total global emissions from growing past 2018’s record-breaking high

Source: Daily Mail
The US cut its CO2 emissions more than any other country in the world in 2019, helping to keep total global emissions from growing past 2018’s record-breaking high

Today, the International Energy Agency released its report on global CO2 emissions, which totaled 33 gigatonnes in 2019.

The figure matched the total global emissions for 2018, which were the highest ever recorded in human history.

In spite of the dire figures, the IEA claimed the findings were ‘grounds for optimism,’ pointing to the fact that total emissions hadn’t risen over all, while the global economy had grown by 2.9 percent, suggesting economic prosperity can continue even with a focus on managing greenhouse gases.

According to IEA Executive Director Faith Birol, the report, ‘is evidence that clean energy transitions are underway – and it’s also a signal that we have the opportunity to meaningfully move the needle on emissions through more ambitious policies and investments.’

The report splits CO2 emissions into two main groups: those from advanced economies, meaning the United States, the European Union, and Japan; and those that come from the rest of the world.

CO2 emissions from the advanced economies dropped from 11.7 gigatonnes in 2018 to 11.3 gigatonnes in 2019.

The US led the reductions with a 140 million ton decline in 2019, a 2.9 percent less than its 2018 emissions, making it the country with the single biggest CO2 reductions in the world.

Countries in the EU collectively cut 160 million tons for a five percent drop.

Japan saw a dip in CO2 emissions by 45 million tons, representing a four percent yearly decline.

According to the IEA, a wide range of factors influenced the declines.

In America coal-powered plants struggled to compete with natural gas prices, which were 45 percent lower in 2019 than in 2018.

At the same time, overall annual electricity consumption declined, which the IEA attributes to warmer average winter temperatures and slightly cooler summer temperatures, meaning less overall heating and air-conditioning.

In many EU countries, declines were attributed to growth in renewable energy sources, like wind power, demand for which increased 11 percent in Germany.

In the UK, renewable energy sources, including wind, solar, and natural gas, accounted for 40 percent of the country’s electricity supply.

Over the last 30 years, the main driver of CO2 has been countries other than the US, EU, and Japan, with emissions rising from 9.2 gigatonnes in 1990 to 22 gigatonnes in 2019, driven largely by India and China. 

During the same period, CO2 emissions in the advanced economies of the world have been relatively stable, rising from 11.3 gigatonnes in 1990, peaking at 13 gigatonnes in 2007, and returning to 11.3 gigatonnes in 2019.

‘We now need to work hard to make sure that 2019 is remembered as a definitive peak in global emissions, not just another pause in growth,’ Birol said.

‘We have the energy technologies to do this, and we have to make use of them all.’

‘The IEA is building a grand coalition focused on reducing emissions – encompassing governments, companies, investors and everyone with a genuine commitment to tackling our climate challenge.’

The IEA says it will release another report in June that will propose how global carbon emissions can be cut by a-third by 2025.


Carbon dioxide

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is one of the biggest contributors to global warming. After the gas is released into the atmosphere it stays there, making it difficult for heat to escape - and warming up the planet in the process.

It is primarily released from burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas, as well as cement production.

The average monthly concentration of CO2 in the Earth's atmosphere, as of April 2019, is 413 parts per million (ppm). Before the Industrial Revolution, the concentration was just 280 ppm.

CO2 concentration has fluctuated over the last 800,000 years between 180 to 280ppm, but has been vastly accelerated by pollution caused by humans.

Nitrogen dioxide

The gas nitrogen dioxide (NO2) comes from burning fossil fuels, car exhaust emissions and the use of nitrogen-based fertilisers used in agriculture.

Although there is far less NO2 in the atmosphere than CO2, it is between 200 and 300 times more effective at trapping heat.

Sulfur dioxide

Sulfur dioxide (SO2) also primarily comes from fossil fuel burning, but can also be released from car exhausts.

SO2 can react with water, oxygen and other chemicals in the atmosphere to cause acid rain.

Carbon monoxide

Carbon monoxide (CO) is an indirect greenhouse gas as it reacts with hydroxyl radicals, removing them. Hydroxyl radicals reduce the lifetime of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.


What is particulate matter?

Particulate matter refers to tiny parts of solids or liquid materials in the air.

Some are visible, such as dust, whereas others cannot be seen by the naked eye.

Materials such as metals, microplastics, soil and chemicals can be in particulate matter.

Particulate matter (or PM) is described in micrometres. The two main ones mentioned in reports and studies are PM10 (less than 10 micrometres) and PM2.5 (less than 2.5 micrometres).

Scientists measure the rate of particulates in the air by cubic metre.

Particulate matter is sent into the air by a number of processes including burning fossil fuels, driving cars and steel making.

Why are particulates dangerous?

Particulates are dangerous because those less than 10 micrometres in diameter can get deep into your lungs, or even pass into your bloodstream. Particulates are found in higher concentrations in urban areas, particularly along main roads.

Health impact

What sort of health problems can pollution cause?

According to the World Health Organization, a third of deaths from stroke, lung cancer and heart disease can be linked to air pollution.

Some of the effects of air pollution on the body are not understood, but pollution may increase inflammation which narrows the arteries leading to heart attacks or strokes.

As well as this, almost one in 10 lung cancer cases in the UK are caused by air pollution.

Particulates find their way into the lungs and get lodged there, causing inflammation and damage. As well as this, some chemicals in particulates that make their way into the body can cause cancer.

Deaths from pollution

Around seven million people die prematurely because of air pollution every year. Pollution can cause a number of issues including asthma attacks, strokes, various cancers and cardiovascular problems.

Asthma triggers

Air pollution can cause problems for asthma sufferers for a number of reasons. Pollutants in traffic fumes can irritate the airways, and particulates can get into your lungs and throat and make these areas inflamed.

Problems in pregnancy

Women exposed to air pollution before getting pregnant are nearly 20 per cent more likely to have babies with birth defects, research suggested in January 2018.

Living within 3.1 miles (5km) of a highly-polluted area one month before conceiving makes women more likely to give birth to babies with defects such as cleft palates or lips, a study by University of Cincinnati found.

For every 0.01mg/m3 increase in fine air particles, birth defects rise by 19 per cent, the research adds.

Previous research suggests this causes birth defects as a result of women suffering inflammation and 'internal stress'.

What is being done to tackle air pollution?

Paris agreement on climate change

The Paris Agreement, which was first signed in 2015, is an international agreement to control and limit climate change.

It hopes to hold the increase in the global average temperature to below 2°C (3.6ºF) 'and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C (2.7°F)'.

Carbon neutral by 2050

The UK government has announced plans to make the country carbon neutral by 2050.

They plan to do this by planting more trees and by installing 'carbon capture' technology at the source of the pollution.

Some critics are worried that this first option will be used by the government to export its carbon offsetting to other countries.

International carbon credits let nations continue emitting carbon while paying for trees to be planted elsewhere, balancing out their emissions.

No new petrol or diesel vehicles by 2040

In 2017, the UK government announced the sale of new petrol and diesel cars would be banned by 2040.

From around 2020, town halls will be allowed to levy extra charges on diesel drivers using the UK's 81 most polluted routes if air quality fails to improve.

However,  MPs on the climate change committee have urged the government to bring the ban forward to 2030, as by then they will have an equivalent range and price.

Norway's electric car subsidies

The speedy electrification of Norway's automotive fleet is attributed mainly to generous state subsidies. Electric cars are almost entirely exempt from the heavy taxes imposed on petrol and diesel cars, which makes them competitively priced.

A VW Golf with a standard combustion engine costs nearly 334,000 kroner (34,500 euros, $38,600), while its electric cousin the e-Golf costs 326,000 kroner thanks to a lower tax quotient.

Criticisms of inaction on climate change

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has said there is a 'shocking' lack of Government preparation for the risks to the country from climate change.

The committee assessed 33 areas where the risks of climate change had to be addressed – from flood resilience of properties to impacts on farmland and supply chains – and found no real progress in any of them.

The UK is not prepared for 2°C of warming, the level at which countries have pledged to curb temperature rises, let alone a 4°C rise, which is possible if greenhouse gases are not cut globally, the committee said.

It added that cities need more green spaces to stop the urban 'heat island' effect, and to prevent floods by soaking up heavy rainfall.

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