3 October 2017

The economy is growing, but the CO2 emission remains the same

Utrecht-based researcher on stabilisation CO2 emission: "We really have to step up a notch."

The global emission of greenhouse gases has risen again in 2016, with a half percent in total. This is shown by numbers of the PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency. But it is encouraging that the emission of CO2 (or carbon dioxide), the most well-known greenhouse gas, has remained stable for the second year in a row. “That is hopeful in and of itself, but we really have to step up a notch,” says atmosphere researcher Maarten Krol of Utrecht University in response to this news.

The fact that the CO2 emission has remained stable can mostly be attributed to a reduced use of coal and an increase in renewable electricity. In Russia, the USA and Japan, the CO2 emission decreased; in the EU and China, the emissions were equal to those of last year. “And that's a deviation from the trend,” says atmosphere researcher Maarten Krol of Utrecht University. “Because the economy did grow. So you could say that regarding the CO2 emission, things are slowly going in the right direction.”

Smartphone

There is still a lot of work to be done, for a number of reasons. In a country like India, the emission of carbon dioxide increased with nearly five percent – a trend that can also be observed in other up and coming economies. “But it's not fair to blame only those countries for it,” Krol says. “Because when we buy a new smartphone, it will be produced there. We outsource our production and with it also a part of our emissions. This makes it our problem too.”

“Livestock numbers in China and India will rise and methane emissions with it.”

The emission of CO2 may have remained stable, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is still rising. “Before the industrial era, the number of CO2 particles were roughly 270 per million. We are currently at 400 particles per million and that number increases with two more every year. If we want to stop global warming, we'll have to get below 400 again.”

Problem

Another alarming fact is that in 2016, one percent more methane was emitted than in 2015. Methane is a lesser known greenhouse gas, but it is far more harmful than carbon dioxide. “The meat industry is responsible for a large part of the methane emission. And if countries like India and China become more prosperous, their inhabitants will want to eat meat more and more often. Livestock numbers will rise and the methane emissions with it – that will become a big problem,” Krol says. “The only advantage is that methane will disappear from the atmosphere within ten years. So if we can get the emissions down, we'll also get rid of the problem reasonably quick.”