Key developments: on the way to Paris, what has changed since Copenhagen?

This year, the Climate Change Performance Index shows a new “record” in global energy related CO2 emissions. Similar records have been reported almost every year since the Index was started ten years ago. In the coming years, the atmospheric CO2 concentration is also set to exceed the 400-ppm benchmark. Nevertheless, promising trends can also be reported. Both the rising emissions and a number of promising trends emphasize the need to reach an ambitious agreement at the COP21 in Paris. The new agreement should inspire confidence in investors and individuals alike to shift their investments to promote low and finally zero carbon emissions. Some of the developments that have taken place during the past five years highlight the differences in conditions before Copenhagen and raise hopes of reaching this agreement next year in Paris.

1. Emission growth rates are slowing and at the same time we can observe a global decoupling from CO2 emissions and GDP growth as well as from CO2 emissions and primary energy consumption.

2. The decoupling of emissions and primary energy consumption is in line with the rapidly developing renewable energy (RE) sector. 51 of the 58 Index states show a positive trend in the field of renewables and most have double-digit growth rates; the annual mean development of REs has shown a steady increase of about 15% over the last years (more than 16% in 2012). As part of this development, the price of REs is dropping rapidly and sometimes already outpaces that of fossil fuels.

3. The IPCC has made clear that four fifths of global fossil fuels need to stay in the ground and for the first time has published emission limits that must be observed in order to comply with the 2 °C guard rail.

4. In light of scientific studies, coal – as the number 1 top polluting energy source – must be phased out during the next decades if the target of remaining below the 2 °C threshold is to be reached. And climate change is only one factor contributing to the phasing out of coal. A number of politicians and investors have understood the circumstances and, as a result, for the first time since the Industrial Revolution, the global coal industry finds itself on the defence. Anti-coal developments are now taking place in the world’s largest emitting countries: China and the US. In China, the Index data show declining growth rates of coal and a slow but steady decoupling of primary energy consumption and CO2 emissions. About one third of Chinese provinces have already agreed to implement measures for a restriction of coal-fired power plants. And now, for the first time ever, China, in a joint public statement by its President Xi Jinping and US President Barack Obama, has named a date for an emissions peak. The US government has also given strong signals for a restrictive coal policy, both internally and externally. In addition, many development banks worldwide have fulfilled the announcements made last year and started to divest themselves of coal. This led to a wave of divestment that has already caused public debate.

The joint declaration in November 2014 by the heads of state of the two largest emitters created the momentum for taking political action before Paris 2015. Now it is up to the EU to show its willingness to catch up and regain its former leading role in climate protection. Not only should all G20 countries announce their goals until spring, it is also up to them to act and to constantly adjust their goals to the challenge throughout the process. These promising political signs together with data showing, on the one hand, declining emission growth rates and, on the other, a decoupling of CO2 emissions from GDP and primary energy consumption suggests that a real and stable plateau of overall emissions could be within reach in the coming years. Paris could be a turning point in this respect.

And we can report on yet another silver lining: Something exciting came up in this year’s CCPI: Denmark and Sweden surpassed their benchmark for the winner’s podium. At least for now, these countries are doing their share to keep the world below 2 °C warming. However, since one year does not make a trend, we will have to see what happens in the future to be sure that this development is not due to short-term weather conditions or other fluctuations. But, if this promising development continues throughout the next years, these countries may be awarded with the 1st and 2nd places of the Index. For now, the first three places remain unoccupied to remind countries of how much still remains to be done to successfully prevent the dangerous impacts of climate change.

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