Even with the costs of renewable energy systems falling and the use of battery-powered cars increasing, nations that signed the Paris climate agreement in 2015 are struggling to hit the emission reduction targets they committed to reach.
In December 2015, 195 countries signed the agreement pledging to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, primarily carbon dioxide. The agreement was celebrated as the first formal worldwide accord to reduce the consumption of fossil fuels in order to mitigate climate change.
Despite the promises made in the accord, global emissions of carbon dioxide have continued to rise.
Among the main factors contributing to rising emissions are accelerated deforestation in Brazil and the growing use of coal to meet demand for electricity in developing countries in Asia and Africa and even some countries in Europe. As a result, a number of governments, including those of Germany and France, have announced their countries will miss the near-term emission reduction targets they set for themselves.
Contrasting U.S. Success
Myron Ebell, director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, says countries missing their emission reduction targets is nothing new.
“Most countries failed to meet their carbon dioxide reduction targets under the Kyoto Protocol as well, and of course there were fewer countries setting targets then,” said Ebell. “The United States is the only country to significantly reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, and that’s for reasons having nothing to do with the Kyoto or the Paris climate agreements. Rather, it is largely a result of coal being displaced by natural gas, which emits less carbon dioxide when producing electricity.
“The United States has reduced emissions significantly, but not in an effort to fight climate change or to transform our economy the way countries like Germany and Britain are unsuccessfully trying to do,” Ebell said. “Even though they’ve built more and more wind turbines and solar panels, emissions have actually gone up in Germany: as the country is phasing out its nuclear reactors, utilities are using more coal because wind turbines and solar panels don’t provide enough reliable electricity.”
Reducing Emissions ‘Very Difficult’
It turns out it’s much tougher to reduce emissions than elected leaders seem to think, says Ebell.
“It is very expensive to reduce emissions, and unless you’re willing to build nuclear power plants, there is no substitute for coal, natural gas, and oil,” said Ebell. “In the transportation sector, there is no real alternative to gasoline and diesel from petroleum.
“I think a lot of these countries see these agreements as a way to show how virtuous they are and to feel good about themselves, but the actual work of reducing greenhouse gas emissions is very difficult,” Ebell said. “It’s very easy for governments to talk big, but very difficult to follow through and actually cut greenhouse gas emissions to meet commitments.”
Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) writes from Dallas, Texas.