Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Carbon emissions - history and forecasts

Today and for the next two days I am attending a course on carbon emissions trading. Interesting stuff. It has prompted me to look for the data on carbon emissions, and here is what I have found.

Historical data is available from a US government outfit called the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Centre. The data goes back all the way to the middle of the 19th century.

Then we have the federal Energy Information Administration's forecasts all the way up to 2030. These were only released last week and I have to admit I am a little surprised by what they say: there will be no overall fall in energy consumption either this year or next. As a result a continued increase in carbon emissions at the same pace as in recent times is expected. To me it seems like the EIA are just being lazy.

The IMF are telling us that 2009 will be the first time in over sixty years that total world output will fall (the decline is forecast at 1.3%). Even the forecast growth rate for 2010 is very low at 1.9% (only growth in 1975, 1982 and 1991 has been lower in the past half century). It therefore seems only reasonable to expect global energy consumption and carbon emissions to shrink by at least as much as they did during the early 1980s recession.

I have calculated my own series of carbon emissions since 1965 using the energy consumption by fuel type data from the BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2008. I have then assumed that energy consumption behaves in the same way as it did during and after the early 80s recession and after five years it resumes growth at the pace anticipated by the current EIA forecast. The result is the red line plotted in the chart.

Conclusion: we probably won’t reach the 2008 carbon emissions level again until 2013.

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