A new method for tracking the progress that individual countries are making towards meeting the global climate targets of the Paris Agreement is published online this week in Nature Climate Change. Although the new set of interrelated indicators suggests the rate of current global carbon emissions is broadly on track to keeping warming below 2 °C, rapid deployment of existing technologies and technological advances are needed to stay on track to 2030 targets and the longer-term Paris ambition of balancing any new emissions with emissions recaptured from the atmosphere (net-zero emissions).
Glen Peters and colleagues used the Kaya Identity to present measureable indicators related to climate and energy, thereby linking carbon emissions to their various drivers, such as economic growth and energy intensity of GDP. These indicators track progress at different levels of detail and different time periods. Applying these indicators to global and country-level data, the authors show that the amount of carbon produced per unit of energy has decreased in recent years (that is, the carbon intensity of energy has improved); however energy use remains the largest emissions driver. They find that growth in solar and wind power has contributed to the emissions slowdown, but that economic factors and improved energy efficiency have had a greater impact - suggesting a return to greater prosperity could reverse declining emissions.
The authors highlight that further improvements in the carbon intensity of energy will come from technological advances. They suggest that, in order to meet the long-term net-zero goal of the Paris Agreement, accelerated expansion of renewables and widespread implementation of carbon capture and storage is needed soon.
In an accompanying News & Views article, Christopher Green writes: “To reduce carbon emissions by 80% between now and 2050 requires a ~5% per year rate of decline in carbon emissions…This new analysis suggests that we might not be technologically ready to make deep cuts in global emissions.”