31 May 2011

Continued Deceleration of the Decarbonization of the Global Economy

Last summer I noted a distinct trend since 1990 of a deceleration of the decarbonization of the global economy.  What does this mean in plain English?  It means that the the trend of emitting less carbon per unit of economic activity -- in place for much of the 20th century -- was slowing down.  This slow down was occurring despite intentions expressed in policies around the world to accelerate the trend, despite assumptions in virtually every major integrated assessment model that the trend would begin to accelerate even in the absence of such policies and despite the rapid deployment of renewable energy around the world.

New data has just been released which allows for an update of the data that I presented last summer through 2010, and the update can be seen in the graph above. The data shows that in 2010 the world saw the rate of change in its carbon dioxide emissions per unit of economic activity continue to decrease -- to zero.  (The data that I use are global GDP data from Angus Maddison extended using IMF global GDP growth rates and NEAA carbon dioxide data extended to 2010 using the 2010 growth rate released by the IEA yesterday). 

The deceleration of the decarbonization of the global economy means that the world is moving away from stabilization of concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and despite the various reports issued and assertions made, there is no evidence to support claims to the contrary.  For more on why this is so, I recommend this book.


  1. Thanks Roger

    See also this report in yesterday's Guardian in the UK, which picks up on similar figures but somehow thinks they prove that we should keep trying with the same old policies even harder.
    Good old Guardian.

  2. One testable hypothesis is as follows:

    1. the GDP growth is being dominated by the large developing countries (BRIC et al)

    2. they are techncically at a less developed state (from a decarbonization perspective) than the developed nations that were driving growth

    3. result is that global decarbonization shows a slowing

    4. if this situation continues, then expected decarbonization improvements in the developing/growing countries will begin to show back up again in future years

  3. -2-nearwalden

    Thanks, these are some important propositions worth discussing. I am not sure I agree with #2, on either side (growing vs. not-growing-as-much) ...

    Consider that the World Bank is only underwriting coal plants in developing countries that have the latest/greatest technologies. On the flip side, Germany has just turned its back on nuclear which necessarily means more fossil fuels and a recarbonization of its economy.

    I am working up a post on Germany, and co2scorecard.org has a nice post on coal technologies:


  4. When the true costs of decarbonization come to light, people everywhere reject it. In Germany, the cost is nuclear. The only people who favor decarbonization are those who stick their heads in the sand when you start talking about the costs. Those are the true denialists.