The evidence documenting the decoupling of economic growth and greenhouse gas emissions has been growing for years. The CDC has concluded that growth is compatible with emission reduction
and Carbon Brief reported that 35 countries are showing signs of decoupling. If emissions coupled to growth is the problem then decoupling is the solution. This is the key to market driven solutions.
The Stern Review concludes the choice between climate action and economic growth is a false choice:
“The world does not need to choose between averting climate change and promoting growth and development. Changes in energy technologies and in the structure of economies have created opportunities to decouple growth from greenhouse gas emissions.”
It should be pointed out that failing to curtail emissions is far more costly than the reductions themselves. The Stern Review warned of dire economic implication if we do not avert the worst impacts of climate change. In recent years it seemed as though the message was getting through.
California has been leading the way steadily building a profitable case for decoupling
carbon emissions and growth. Charles Kolstad, a Stanford University economist concluded that California has demonstrated that it can stabilize emissions and have a prosperous economy.
As reported by Enviormental Leader, a 2016 report titled, the Global 500 GHG Performance, indicates that corporate revenues grew five times faster than emissions. The same year that this report was released more than 155 companies adopted science based emission reduction targets.
However, hopeful observations are being eclipsed by other more ominous findings. Many of the largest polluters have not shown any evidence of decoupling and in the US, after three years of declines, the EPA
predicts that emissions will begin to rise again in 2018.
Recently released data from the International Energy Agency (IEA) shows that after being flat for three years global emissions started to climb again in 2017. This is directly tied to increasing fossil fuel usage. Even coal, the dirtiest of dirty energy is ramping up production after a steady and precipitous decline.
We thought we had reason to believe that we may be able to decouple economic growth from greenhouse gas, emissions. Now that the streak of decoupling has ended so too has any hope of staying within safe upper threshold temperature limits.
The markets have failed because critical variables have not been factored into the value equation. At the crux of the issue is our reliance on fossil fuels and our preoccupation with unbridled growth. It is increasingly apparent that we must put limits on both.
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We Can Reduce GHG Emissions and Tackle Climate Change