Can we reduce the emissions per service to reduce total emissions?

Unlike population and consumption, the emissions released per service have been decreasing over the past decades [1]. This is shown by the fact that the amount of CO2 emissions per dollar of standardized Gross Domestic Product (GDP) decreased by 43% between 1970 and 2014 [1]. The standardized Gross Domestic Product is a measure of the total financial value of finished products and services[2,3,4].

Look at the graph that shows the decrease since the 1950s in CO2 emissions per standardized global $GDP per person [1].

In other words, for every ‘thing’ that we consume, we cause less climate change than we did 50 years ago [1].

This was achieved because less energy is needed to make a product and fewer emissions are released per unit energy generated [5,6,7].

Engineers and scientists have created technologies that decrease the emissions from a lot of our consumption [5,8,9]. Firstly, we can now generate energy in ways that produce far less greenhouse gas emissions [10,11]. For example, 8.5% of power was from low-emission sources like wind, solar and nuclear power in 2018, compared to just 1.19% in 1950 [10].

Moreover, we now have products and services that use less energy [5]. For example, in 1975, the average car emitted about 680g of CO2 for every mile it drove, whilst today, driving a mile only emits 350g of CO2 [12].

In the next post we’ll look at whether we can continue to decrease these emissions in our aim to reach zero total emissions!

References

[1] https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/global-co-intensity-1820-2014?time=1820..2014 Decrease from 0.61kg/$ in 1970 to 0.35 kg/$ in 2014 ((0.61-0.35)/0.61 x100 = 42.62% decrease). GDP per person is standardized using Purchasing Power Parity and the international-$ in 2011.

[2] https://www.investopedia.com/terms/g/gdp.asp Within article see: What is GDP?


[3] https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.MKTP.CD?most_recent_value_desc=true&view=map See: Table (All Countries and Economies, filter by Most Recent Value (millions) descending)


[4] https://ourworldindata.org/what-are-ppps

[5] https://ourworldindata.org/co2-and-other-greenhouse-gas-emissions#co2-intensity-of-economies Within article see: CO2 intensity of economies

[6] https://www.ons.gov.uk/economy/nationalaccounts/uksectoraccounts/compendium/economicreview/october2019/thedecouplingofeconomicgrowthfromcarbonemissionsukevidence See: 1. Main points, bullet 3, and 5. UK’s structural change

[7] https://pdf.wri.org/navigating_numbers.pdf See: Chapter 5, Emissions Intensity. Paragraph starting ‘Energy-intensity levels are not well correlated with economic development levels’

[8] https://www.iea.org/publications/freepublications/publication/4E_S_L_Report_180915.pdf Within report see especially: 2 Impacts on rates of energy efficiency improvement

[9] https://www.ref.org.uk/ref-blog/334-the-increasing-cost-of-co2-emissions-reductions-in-the-united-kingdom Within article see: table

[10] https://ourworldindata.org/energy See: Global primary energy consumption. 2018: 0.39 other renewables + 0.36 solar + 0.79 wind + 4.4 nuclear + 2.6 hydropower = 8.54%. 1950: 1.19 hydropower. Traditional biofuels (like burning wood and crop waste) do not count as low-emission unlike modern biofuels, included in ‘other renewables’ (see source 10 within reference)

[11] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0301421513010872 Within paper see: abstract

[12] https://www.epa.gov/automotive-trends/highlights-automotive-trends-report See: 1. New vehicle estimated real-world CO2 emissions are at a record low and fuel economy is at a record high and Figure ES-1

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