Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – The climate crisis is the most serious challenge facing our globe, and it is natural to do some doom-scrolling about how we are failing to make the necessary changes fast enough to avoid catastrophe. But as climate scientist Michael E. Mann argues, concentrating on the negative actually promotes apathy and helps Big Oil. The fact is that tremendous strides are being made in green energy, which have the potential to change the face of the earth and to forestall the worst consequences of climate change. Today let me just review some of the good news items that came across my feed, provoking me to look into the reports on which they are based.
1. The Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air reports that the European Union’s carbon dioxide emissions fell 8% in 2023, to a level not seen since John F. Kennedy told people that he was a Berliner in 1963.
The bulk of the decline — 56% — was driven by wind, water, solar and nuclear, all low-carbon sources of energy. It also helped that use of the dirtiest fossil fuel, coal, declined by 25% in just one year, and is down by half since 2016. So the emissions fell in part because there are far more renewables in the European mix now, and in part because there is much less coal. Good weather also contributed to a decrease in electricity usage.
This finding is great good news because if we take the whole world into account and not just the EU, NOAA is predicting that we’ll have put out 36.8 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide last year, a 1.1% increase over 2022. Instead, the world needs to cut CO2 emissions by 1.8 billion metric tons every single year from here on out.
What the EU is showing is that with deliberate climate policy you can actually start significantly reducing emissions of carbon dioxide– a dangerous greenhouse gas that helped cause 28 disasters in the US last year that did $1 billion in damages each. That is, unfortunately, only the beginning.
Only if Europe ups its game further and only if the US, China and India follow Europe’s lead can we avoid tipping the planet into a chaotic, violent climate that threatens orderly human civilization.
2. Another piece of good news is that the International Energy Agency is saying that all the new demand for energy generated throughout the world for the next three years — through the end of 2026 — will be met by wind, water, solar and nuclear.
By 2025, a third of global power will be produced by renewables, which will outstrip coal for the first time.
3. Clean energy has gone from being something exotic to actually making a difference in a country’s gross domestic product. According to The Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air, China wanted 5% growth in 2023, but would only have achieved about 3% growth without wind and solar. With them, the economy grew 5.2%.
That is, some 42% of China’s GDP growth was generated by renewables. That is an astonishing statistic.
Moreover, virtually all of the country’s investment growth was in the renewables sector, as real estate and heavy industry turned soft.
This $890 billion investment in green energy matched the investments of the entire world in fossil fuels last year, and equaled the annual GDP of a G-20 member such as Turkey.
The clean energy sector generated $1.6 trillion for the Chinese economy, an increase of nearly a third over the previous year.