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Paris Agreement: Critical mass of nations to reach emission peak by 2030

Creative Commons: Nicolò Lazzati, 2014.

Creative Commons: Nicolò Lazzati, 2014.

A critical mass of countries will peak their greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 as a result of commitments made as part of the UN climate deal agreed in Paris last Saturday (12 Dec), according to research by an environmental thinktank.

Data by the World Resources Institute (WRI) indicates that by 2030, 55% of global annual carbon emissions will be produced by countries that have reached or passed their peak emission levels, calculated as a proportion of 2012 levels.

Significantly, economic growth could soon no longer be linked to emissions growth, as the rates begin to decouple.

Due to improved energy efficiency and increased use of clean energy, global emissions neared a plateau last year, and even begun to drop in a number of countries, as economies continued to grow.

By 1990 emissions had peaked in just eight countries: Norway, Germany, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Romania and Slovakia.

By 1995 these countries had been joined by four others, the UK, Lithuania, Poland and Sweden.

At this point, these countries’ joint emissions totalled only 4% of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions, based on 2012 levels.

The WRI study suggested that, if governments fulfil commitments made before and during the Paris talks, emissions in China, Mexico, South Africa, and Brazil will peak, by 2030.

Notably, while China announced commitments to reduce its CO2 emissions by 2030, this commitment excludes non-CO2 emissions.

Non-CO2 gases account for roughly 20% of China’s total emissions. Only the CO2 emissions which are part of China’s peaking commitment were included in WRI’s calculation. The researchers assume that non-CO2 gases will continue to grow after 2030.

Kelly Levin, a senior associate with the WRI who led the research with institute fellow Jiawei Song, said the data on peak emissions represented a “major, positive tipping point”.

She said:

Now we are seeing some of the largest greenhouse gas producers commit to peaking their emissions, after which their emissions would fall. This is a significant departure from past commitments.

Coupled with the fact that many developed countries have already peaked emissions … [it] shows that we are moving towards a future that phases out emissions. This wouldn’t have happened without the contributions countries pledged for Paris.

However, Levin warned the changes would not come soon enough, since emissions would have to peak by 2020 if there was a chance of global warming being limited to less than 2C above pre-industrial levels.

She said countries needed to update their current commitments and increase their ambition every five years “so that global emissions peak and then decline even faster”.

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