Proponents of clean energy and thinks tanks have long said it’s possible to reduce emissions and keep an economy growing. Now the latest report from the world’s top climate scientists says 18 countries have done just that, sustaining emissions reductions “for at least a decade” as their economies continued to grow.
The United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) did not name the countries, citing inconsistency in the data.
The Associated Press used figures from Global Carbon Project that aren’t part of this report to find 19 countries where their annual pre-pandemic carbon dioxide emissions were less than 10 million metric tonnes in 2019. These are: the United States of America, Germany, Japan and Italy.
Three common characteristics of countries who have managed to reduce carbon emissions were identified by the IPCC: they used less energy and switched to renewable energy. They also increased their energy efficiency.
Such countries “can export a model that shows we can reduce emissions and still have high levels of well-being,” said Greg Nemet, a professor of energy and public policy at the University of Wisconsin–Madison La Follette School of Public Affairs. ”We can export policies that have played a role in achieving that.”
The list of countries shows a path forward but raises issues of equity. The United States and Great Britain are some of the biggest contributors to historic carbon emissions. There are many people living in these countries who have access to electricity, and vehicles.
Nemet, who is also a lead author of the IPCC report, added that developed countries that have been historical contributors to climate change and have been able to decarbonize need to take a “leadership” role in helping developing countries do the same.
During U.N. conferences on climate, discussions about responsibility and historic emissions are discussed. It has been difficult to get industrialized nations to come to an agreement on compensation or the amount they should pay for poorer countries’ investments in green technology.
Inger Andersen (executive director, United Nations Environment Programme) stated that the least developed countries have emitted only 3.3% global greenhouse gas emissions in 2019. Experts note that countries in the developing world are often forced to borrow at lower rates than those of developed nations. This can lead to large capital expenditures becoming prohibitive.
“The 18 countries that have balanced emissions reduction and economic growth are indeed examples that give us hope for the future but… all developed nations have a historic responsibility to ensure that they lean in – whether on the Paris Accord targets of delivering $100 billion a year in climate finance, on ensuring poorer countries have access to technology and knowledge to make these shifts,” or by leading, making these transitions first, she said.
Michael Grubb is a leading writer for the IPCC Report and teaches energy and climate change at University College of London. In the report, Grubb stated that scientists created economic and emission scenarios in order to determine what would occur globally at various levels of carbon pollution reduction. In nearly every scenario—including the “most aggressive” ones to cut carbon emissions—the global gross domestic product still nearly doubled by mid-century. Grubb stated that even in the worst scenario, the GDP rose 96%.
“The point is in practice, what we do in climate mitigation in macroeconomic terms is really going to be lost in the noise of the overall effectiveness of our economic policies,” he said.
Grubb claimed that the IPCC Report declined to identify the 18 countries, as some data only contained carbon dioxide and others all greenhouse gases. There were different baseline years. He stated that there were more countries than others who reduced emissions and grew their economies depending on which parameters they used.
Patricia Romero-Lankao, a senior scientist at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and lead author of the portion of the IPCC report on national and subnational policies, said she’s optimistic. However, she stressed that more needs to be done in aiding disadvantaged regions and communities with decarbonizing their climates and fixing the global warming impacts.
“This is not a technical problem,” she said. “We need to understand what they need, what challenges they face and how we can adapt our toolset to help us respond to that.”
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