Canadian Emissions Story Earns Pushback on Per Capita Data, Call for Less ‘Handwringing’
Sharp-eyed Energy Mix readers pushed back on both the substance and the conclusion of our lead story Monday, picking up on the Canadian data in the UK Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit’s analysis of per capita greenhouse gas emissions in G7 countries.
Christian Holz of the Climate Equity Reference Project came back with a graph that showed Canada’s per capita emissions hitting a new low in 2014, when ECIU reported them increasing from 1992 to 2014. And Ned Ford of the U.S. Sierra Club second-guessed an emphasis on “handwringing” that distracts from the rapid shift to renewable energy sources.
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Holz, who may well be Canada’s most tenacious non-government negotiator at the annual UN climate conference, charted the country’s emissions, GDP, and population based on federal government sources. He noted that emissions per person fell from 24.25 to 20.67 tonnes from 2000 to 2012, rose slightly to 20.81 tonnes in 2013, then fell to 20.61 tonnes in 2014. Over that period, emissions fell from 744 to 696 million tonnes from 2000 to 2009, then increased to 731 million in 2013 and 732 million in 2014. But a rising population, from 30 to 35 million, brought per capita emissions down.
(None of which is to obscure the reality that Canada and other countries need far faster, deeper GHG reductions, and much more investment in renewable energy, to meet and exceed their Paris targets.)
Ford sent a chart that showed sustained reductions in U.S. emissions between 2014 and 2016, driven by low natural gas prices and the rise of renewables and energy efficiency. But beyond the numbers, “it is absolutely critical that we stop the handwringing and figure out some way to be happy about the clean energy future,” he wrote. “I love advocating future life on Earth, more jobs, and a healthier economy. It’s hard not to like.” But that positive advocacy is important, because “it seems pretty hard to expect success if we don’t know what it looks like.”
He added that “if the U.S. continues to increase efficiency, wind, and solar at the rate that has prevailed since 2010 until 2020, we can hold steady at that rate for 20 years.” If that happens, the country will be able to “end all fossil generation in about 10 years, and displace all aging nuclear plants, about half of our petroleum consumption, and about a third of our non-electric natural gas consumption in the following 10 years.”
But to hit those ambitious goals, “we also need the vision to ensure the rate of wind and solar construction we need.”