Action by China and India slows emissions growth, President Trump’s policies likely to cause US emissions to flatten

12th May 2017

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Global leadership on climate is changing, with positive developments on coal use in China and India likely to reduce projected global carbon emissions by roughly two to three billion tonnes by 2030 compared to our estimate last year. The recent, highly adverse rollbacks by President Trump are unlikely to have a major impact on global emissions by 2030.

The Trump Administration’s climate policies, if fully implemented and not compensated by other actors, are projected to flatten US emissions instead of them continuing on a downward trend.

China’s coal consumption has declined in three consecutive years (2013 to 2016), and the outlook is for a continued slow decline. India has stated that planned coal-fired power plants may not be needed and with announced policies—if fully implemented—it would see a significant slowing down in the growth of CO2 emissions over the next decade.

Both China and India look set to overachieve their Paris Agreement climate pledges.  Five years ago, the idea of either country stopping—or even slowing—coal use was considered an insurmountable hurdle, as coal-fired power plants were thought necessary to satisfy the energy demands of these nations.  Yet, recent observations show they are now on the way towards overcoming this challenge. This stands in contrast to the decisions of the US administration under President Trump, who appears intent on going in the opposite direction.

In the last ten years, the energy market has transformed: the price of renewable energy from wind and solar has dropped drastically. In many countries and regions, renewables are now cost-competitive with fossil fuels and, since 2015, have been responsible for the majority of new installations (UNEP & Bloomberg 2017; IEA 2016). Even with a decrease in the overall value of investment by almost a quarter, investments in renewables in 2016, without large hydro, increased by 9% compared with 2015 (UNEP & Bloomberg 2017).   

Together, the positive developments in India and China have a significant impact on the projected growth global of greenhouse gas emissions—on the order of a roughly 2–3 GtCO2 reduction in 2030 compared to projections made just last year. They significantly outweigh the potentially negative effects on emissions from the Trump Administration’s proposed rollbacks in the USA of around 0.4 GtCO2 in 2030.

The short-term positive improvement of around 1 GtCO2 in the next five years for China and India are also larger than the last year-to-year increase of global energy-related greenhouse gas emissions.[1] 

It remains unclear whether the US will stay in the Paris Agreement; if it does, it appears clear that the Trump Administration will seek to reduce the level of ambition of the US NDC. This would contradict the spirit and the need of the Paris Agreement to increase ambition. If the CAT were to rate the current policies of the Trump Administration as an NDC, it would move it from “Medium” to “Inadequate” on its rating scale.

Footnotes

[1] Less than 100 MtCO2 from 2014–2015 and from 2015–2016 compared to a total of 36 GtCO2 according to preliminary estimates by the Global Carbon Project, November 2016.