One of the more compelling projections in our recently released Outlook for Energy holds that global energy-related CO2 emissions will likely peak around 2030, and then begin declining.
I say compelling because such a projection flies in the face of the commonly held notion that increased economic growth and increased energy use – both of which are expected over the next few decades – produce a roughly commensurate increase in greenhouse gas emissions.
That was the trend throughout the 20th century. But we don’t expect it will continue through the 21st.
As the Outlook points out, many countries are reducing their CO2 emissions relative to their GDP. By 2040, the emissions-intensity of the global economy is likely to fall by half, with substantial contributions from OECD and non-OECD nations alike.
Energy efficiency gains are expected to be a major contributor, as is a gradual but significant transition to less-emissions-intensive energy types as energy use grows over time to support better living standards. This means more use of natural gas – which emits up to 60 percent fewer emissions than coal for electricity generation – along with growth in renewables and nuclear energy.
The reductions won’t be evenly distributed. Emissions in economically developing regions are expected to rise by about one-third over the next quarter century. But they will be more than offset by a projected 20 percent decline in emissions in OECD nations, i.e. larger, developed economies that historically have been the leading greenhouse gas emitters.
With global emissions beginning to decline sometime after 2030, energy-related CO2 levels are expected to be only about 10 percent higher in 2040 compared to 2014.
This is despite our projection that population growth will add 25 percent more energy consumers to the planet and global GDP will have more than doubled during the same period.