David Appell at Quark Soup draws our attention (via Stoat) to a graph in the recent America’s Climate Choices report from the NAS/NRC. If the forecasts on which the authors rely come to pass, it’s going to take almost a couple of decades for U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions to return to post-recession levels. Sounds like good news.
Two years ago, Lester Brown at the Earth Policy Institute wrote of a watershed moment, and while it looks like he was a bit too enthusiastic — long-term, carbon emissions still rise — he might have been on to something.
The United States has ended a century of rising carbon emissions and has now entered a new energy era, one of declining emissions. Peak carbon is now history. What had appeared to be hopelessly difficult is happening at amazing speed.
But the NRC report draws on data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s 2010 World Energy Outlook, which also offers a bigger picture. And as this figure shows, things aren’t quite as optimistic at the global level.
So, basically, the OECD, is stalled at about 13 or 14 Gt of CO2 — with a bit under half that coming from the U.S. As has been suggested before, the big economic downturn seems to have “bought’ us two decades or breathing room, effectively doing more to bring down emissions than anything the House and Senate even considered passing in climate/energy legislation. Alas, the rest of the world is headed nowhere but up.
Two observations. First, stalled at current levels is better than rising fast, but compared with the urgent need to reduce our emissions by at least 80% (and probably more like 100%) over the next few decades, it’s hardly cause for celebration. Second, the atmosphere doesn’t care where the GHGs come from, so let’s not allow modest success at home distract us from the enormous challenge that comes with helping others join the privileged club without wrecking the planet in the process.