The International Energy Agency has put a quantitative estimate on an effect that we all suspected — this year’s economic recession is contributing to a reduction in global carbon emissions. They estimate that 2009 carbon emissions will be 2 percent lower than 2008, with 75% of the reduction attributable to the economic slowdown and 25% attributable to carbon-reduction policies:
The close relationship between GDP and carbon emissions is well documented, so many commentators were expecting that the recession might cause emissions to drop.
But the size of the fall has come as something of a surprise.
The IEA estimates that the recession is responsible for about three-quarters of the fall.
As well as curtailing the business sector’s energy use by applying a general economic brake, the straitened circumstances have reportedly led to deferments on investment in new fossil fuel plants.
The remaining quarter of the reduction comes from policies designed to curb CO2 production, according to the IEA.
The BBC article also points out that compared with the recession of the early 1980s, which was a biggie, this one is likely to lead to larger carbon emission reductions. This is interesting, because it highlights the fact that the relationship between GDP and carbon emissions is 1. nonlinear and 2. not constant. Technology changes, policy changes, and they change the relationship between CDP and CO2.
It’s also interesting that the magnitude of the effects of economic drivers is so much larger than the effects of policy drivers.