By February 9, 2016 Read More →

Exxon Mobil says global economy’s carbon intensity will drop 50% by 2040

Global GHG emissions will increase 10%, but energy consumers will rise by 25% – Outlook for Energy, Exxon Mobil

Can the global economy grow and use more energy, while at the same time significantly reducing the carbon intensity of human activities? Exxon Mobil thinks so.

blog post by Suzanne McCarron, the energy giant’s VP of public and government affairs, argues that global energy-related CO2 emissions will likely peak around 2030, and then begin declining. By 2040, energy-related CO2 levels should be only 10 per cent higher than they were in 2014. The carbon intensity of the world economy will be halved in just 25 years.

The information comes from Exxon’s recently released Outlook for Energy.


Source: Exxon Mobil.

McCarron says the “commonly held notion” that increased economic growth and increased energy use will produce a “roughly commensurate increase” in greenhouse gas emissions is so 20th century. This century will be different.

“…many countries are reducing their CO2 emissions relative to their GDP,” she writes.

“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.”

The Exxon data provides a useful counterpoint to the likes of Naomi Klein, the author of This Changes Everything, who I criticized in yesterday’s column for arguing that a “business as usual” approach left humankind only “radical options” like political and economic revolution.

Klein ignores a central tenet of human history: Humans adapt. We develop new technologies, new strategies as a response to existential crises and challenges.

What types of new approaches can we expect over the next 25 years?

McCarron says we can expect “a gradual but significant transition to less-emissions-intensive energy types” that will support better but less carbon-intense living standards.

“This means more use of natural gas – which emits up to 60 per cent fewer emissions than coal for electricity generation – along with growth in renewables and nuclear energy,” she wrote.

Global energy-related CO2 emissions

Source: Exxon Mobil.

The Exxon analysis suggests the reductions won’t be “evenly distributed,” meaning emissions in developing countries will rise by about one-third over the next quarter century, presumably because they will be most likely to still use coal and to buy autos for the first time (the 1.1 billion fleet of cars on the planet is expected to more or less double by 2040).

The good news is that developed economies – which have historically been the biggest emitters – will enjoy a 20 per cent decline in emissions.

And while emissions are rising slightly and carbon intensity is plummeting, Exxon projects the global economy will add 25 per cent more energy consumers and global GDP will double.

Now, some enterprising Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming zealot will no doubt quibble with Exxon’s numbers, pointing out that all this progress still isn’t enough to keep the planet’s temperature rise to 1.5C above pre-industrial limits.

And perhaps it won’t.

But it does illustrate how much progress can be made in a short time on a vast scale.

And if humans can halve the carbon intensity of their economies in the next 25 years, what can they accomplish in the 25 years after that?

Probably enough to avoid the “radical options” Naomi Klein is advocating, is my guess.

Posted in: Markham on Energy

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