May 23, 2008

G8 Greenhouse Gas Emissions Fell in 2006

A recent survey shows that greenhouse gas emissions by the Group of Eight industrial nations except Russia fell in 2006, making this the broadest dip since the world started trying to slow climate change in 1990.

There was an overall 0.6 percent dip in G8 emissions in 2006 from 2005, likely due to rising oil prices, some measures to curb global warming and a milder winter in the United States in 2006 that depressed energy demand for heating.

"It is an encouraging sign that emissions decreased in 2006 in some major developed economies," said Michael Raupach, leader of the Earth Observation Center in Canberra, Australia.

However, Raupach said it was only the beginning. "The world would need far tougher action to stabilize emissions at levels to avert dangerous climate changes of ever more heatwaves, food shortages, floods, droughts and rising seas," he said.

The United States, Japan, Germany, Canada, France, Britain, and Italy all saw drops in emissions in 2006. Yet it was only a 2.5 percent drop in France and just 0.02 percent for Germany.

Russia's emissions fell sharply after the collapse of the Soviet Union's smokestack industries. The country saw a gain of 3.1 percent in line with strong economic growth.

Emissions by so many nations in the G8 have not previously fallen together any year since 1990"”the U.N. benchmark for efforts to combat climate change including the Kyoto Protocol.

According to calculations based on submissions to the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat, emissions by the G8 fell to 14.04 billion tons in 2006 from 14.12 billion in 2005.

G8 environment ministers will meet in Kobe, Japan, from May 24-26 to prepare a July summit meant to map out future actions to curb warming.

The 0.6 percent decline was not a sign that G8 nations were really getting to grips with the problem, according to some experts.

"One would expect higher oil prices to reduce demand for oil ... and a relatively mild winter would reduce power consumption and hence emissions from power stations," said Knut Alfsen, research director of the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research in Oslo.

"Unfortunately, it is difficult to discover policy actions in any of these countries that would explain the reduced emissions," he said. "I'm fairly pessimistic with regard to whether the countries are 'starting to get to grips' with the climate change challenge."

There was a heightened awareness among many people about climate change in 2007, linked to factors such as a movie by former U.S. Vice President Al Gore and reports by the U.N. Climate Panel. Alfsen said it would be interesting to see if this would curb emissions.

"An Inconvenient Truth", Gore's documentary, explores scientific evidence on the causes and likely impact of global warming.

"It's hard to generalize across all the economies," said Jennifer Morgan, a director of the E3G think-tank in London.

She said in the United States it doesn't have a lot to do with climate factors, but more to do with other factors such as the winter weather. The United States is outside the Kyoto Protocol, embraced by all other G8 nations.

The International Monetary Fund estimated that the fall in emissions came despite 2006 economic growth of an average of 3.0 percent for advanced economies"”possibly marking progress at least in decoupling emissions from growth.

G8 emissions were down 2.6 percent overall since 1990.

However, most of that decline was due to a sharp fall in Russian emissions after the break-up of the Soviet Union. Emissions overall in the other seven nations are up, led by Canada, the United States and Italy.