Current State of Carbon Emissions as Seen at COP26
Alarm Bells Ringing for a 2.4-Degree Temperature Rise
The “COP26” summit, which brought together leaders from over 190 countries worldwide over two weeks at the beginning of this month, aimed to reach a global strategy to combat global warming. The goal set in the 2015 Paris Agreement to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by 2100 was discussed, along with concrete measures such as rules for the global carbon market, funding for climate change adaptation, new emission targets, and support for developing countries.
During the first week of COP26, a startling report was released indicating that the greenhouse gas reduction targets set by countries for 2030 could lead to a temperature rise of 2.4 degrees Celsius by 2100.
The UK’s Met Office warns that a 2-degree temperature rise could result in sea level rise, droughts, heatwaves, and other extreme weather events affecting up to one billion people worldwide.
This alarming discrepancy arises due to the underestimation of short-term goals for the next 10 years and the gap between set targets and actual actions. Many developed and emerging countries have set their sights on achieving carbon neutrality after 2050. However, depending on emissions in the next 10-20 years, even achieving carbon neutrality might surpass the 1.5-degree temperature rise limit. As an indicator of goal achievement, a 45% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 is necessary.
This report underscores the essential nature of actions in the next decade for all nations. Let’s examine the trends from COP26 in light of the efforts of major countries.
Global Annual CO2 Emissions in 2019 (Compared to 2000)
367 billion tons (+45.45%)
Country-wise Annual CO2 Emissions in 2019 (Compared to 2000)
China: 10.49 billion tons (+205.02%)
USA: 5.26 billion tons (-12.56%)
India: 2.63 billion tons (+168.25%)
Germany: 0.71143 billion tons (-20.94%)
Global Energy Composition in 2019 (Compared to 2010)
Coal: 37% (-5%)
Renewable Energy: 27% (+9%)
Natural Gas: 23% (+1%)
Nuclear: 10% (-3%)
Responsibility as the Largest CO2 Emitter
China, the world’s largest emitter of CO2, continues to increase its emissions alongside its economic growth. While population plays a role, the fact that nearly 30% of global CO2 emissions come from China is a grave concern, attracting attention to the nation’s environmental policies.
In September of last year, China pledged to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060 and transition its increasing CO2 emissions to a declining trend by 2030.
Moreover, the pledge made at the COP26 Climate Change Summit to gradually reduce coal consumption poses a significant challenge for China, which accounts for 52% of the world’s coal consumption.
China has initiated reductions in steel and aluminum production as part of its environmental policy efforts. This policy shift has led to a 3.9% increase in aluminum prices, reaching the highest levels since 2006. With aluminum prices fluctuating by 50% throughout the year, the energy market’s response to decarbonization policies has garnered attention.
However, skepticism remains regarding China’s commitment to environmental policies. New coal-fired power plant constructions are ongoing in China, ascribed to factors such as increased electricity demand due to the pandemic and economic recovery driven by coal, which is affordable and self-sufficient. While some view these efforts as a transition to low-impact alternatives in the long term, doubts remain about China’s decarbonization stance.
China’s actions on climate change will have far-reaching implications for various stakeholders. As the nation continues to navigate its path toward sustainability, its actions will shape international dynamics, energy market trends, and more.
Challenges Faced by Wind Power in Germany
Germany, often hailed as an environmental leader, has set ambitious goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, aiming for a 65% reduction by 2030 (compared to 1990 levels) and carbon neutrality by 2045. To achieve these goals, a transition to renewable energy is crucial. The gradual phase-out of coal-fired power generation by 2038, accompanied by compensation of around 522 billion euros, is a significant step in this direction.
Currently, renewable energy accounts for approximately 42% of the total electricity consumption in Germany. Wind and solar power are expected to play a major role. However, wind power, which is the largest source of electricity supply, is facing various challenges.
Issues range from bird and landscape protection to decreased property values due to turbine installations, competition for land use, and even health concerns related to low-frequency vibrations generated by rotating blades.
Moreover, the decentralized nature of German politics complicates matters. Some states like Bavaria have imposed strict regulations on wind turbine construction in response to local resistance, making it increasingly difficult to secure suitable locations.
The government is attempting to address these challenges by introducing mechanisms for operators to share revenue with local communities, including incentives such as discounted electricity rates for nearby residents. However, since the issues involved are not solely financial, the effectiveness of these measures remains uncertain.
After the September elections, the Green Party, expected to be part of the coalition government, plans to allocate 2% of the country’s land to wind power. Their ability to balance renewable energy adoption with environmental preservation will be closely watched.
India's Five Elixirs and Background
India, the world’s third-largest carbon emitter in 2020, announced five goals at COP26:
- Increase non-fossil energy capacity to 500 GW by 2030.
- Generate 50% of domestic electricity from renewable sources by 2030.
- Reduce predicted carbon emissions by 1 billion tons by 2030.
- Decrease carbon intensity by 45% by 2030.
- Achieve net-zero emissions by 2070.
These goals are driven by the fact that around 70% of India’s electricity is generated from coal. While coal has fueled India’s development, it has also led to environmental issues and economic challenges due to rising coal prices.
Solar energy is seen as a solution, as India receives abundant sunlight for about 250-300 days a year. The government is investing in technology to raise the share of renewable energy from the current 21.5% to the target of 50%.
However, India faces local electricity-related challenges, including unpaid bills to power companies, arbitrary electricity pricing set by state governments, high transmission losses, inadequate energy storage, and electricity theft. Efforts like liberalizing electricity sales and infrastructure improvement are being pursued to address these issues.
Criticism of India’s net-zero target for 2070 arises due to its delayed timeline compared to Western nations. Nevertheless, considering India’s unique circumstances with its growing population and economy, the target seems relatively realistic.
However, India also faces local issues concerning electricity. According to reports, challenges in electricity distribution include unpaid bills to power companies and arbitrary pricing set by state governments. Infrastructure-related issues involve transmission losses exceeding 20%, inadequate energy storage, and problems like electricity theft and tampering.
Efforts are being made to address these issues through initiatives such as the 2021 budget bill aimed at liberalizing electricity sales and infrastructure improvements to reduce transmission losses to 12-15%, among other measures.
While Western countries declare net-zero targets by 2050, criticism arises over India’s target of 2070, which is 20 years later. However, given India’s circumstances with its growing population and economy, and considering its nearly proportional growth in population and GDP, the target might be more realistic than expected. The real test for achieving net-zero will be in the execution of the goals set over the next 30 years. As developing nations strive for net-zero, observing the lead of India’s impressive economic and technological growth as it works toward a sustainable future will be crucial.
Responsibilities in Decarbonization Efforts
The United States, the world’s second-largest CO2 emitter, achieved a steady 13% reduction in emissions compared to 2005 by 2019.
President Biden, upon rejoining the Paris Agreement, set an ambitious target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 50-52% below 2005 levels by 2030. In October, he announced the ‘Build Back Better’ bill, which allocates $555 billion for clean energy investments and emissions reduction.
This substantial budget includes tax deductions and subsidies for companies and consumers, encouraging the adoption of natural energy sources such as solar panels and wind power, as well as promoting the purchase of electric vehicles. According to White House sources and expert analyses, if the bill is passed, annual CO2 emissions could be reduced to about 1/6 of the current level.
However, the historical responsibility for cumulative CO2 emissions since the industrial revolution weighs heavily. The countries emitting a significant share of greenhouse gases might not directly suffer the most from their consequences. At COP26, Simon Kofe, the foreign minister of Tuvalu, a Pacific island nation threatened by rising sea levels, spoke from knee-deep water to highlight the urgency of climate change.
While developed nations pledged to contribute $100 billion annually in aid to developing countries by 2020, actual contributions fell short, with about $80 billion in 2019. The commitments by the United States to contribute around $11.4 billion annually by 2024 and Germany’s pledge to increase aid to around €6 billion annually by 2025 have faced criticism for lacking effectiveness in the eyes of developing nations.