The Peak in OECD Emissions is Starting to Look More Secure

There’s a pattern of energy usage, wind and solar deployment, and economic growth that’s started to show up more consistently across domains in the OECD. Essentially, over the past decade, a long period of fossil fuel based economic growth has increasingly converted to fossil fuel demand stagnation. Wherever new growth has been able to gain traction–whether in new infrastructure, new transportation, or new energy demand–these needs have largely been served by a re-drawing of live-work patterns, public rail transit, and new electricity from wind and solar. And in select cities, we’ve also seen the rollout of bikes, electric vehicles, and new behavior around cars.

I saw this for myself in Los Angeles, in the research I conducted for my case study of that city, published last year in Talking Points Memo. It just so happens I know Los Angeles quite well, having lived there when the advent of LA Metro’s subway lines was just an idea, and a point of contention. No city more perfectly illustrates the dependency on oil-based transport that came to infect the West over the 20th century. Yet, equally, Los Angeles also mirrors the new condition now guiding fossil-fuel based emissions in the OECD, because in effect the growth of LA’s auto complex has essentially been halted.

It’s common to see confusion over this point. Dependency, to the casual observer, looks alot like growth. But it’s not. The US oil adoption phase ended over a decade ago. Today, US oil consumption remains below levels seen in the year 2000 (in fact it’s barely above 1995 levels). In Japan and Europe, the classic cycle of economic growth begetting more oil consumption terminated even further back in time. But as you fly into London or Paris, you will still see strong evidence of the terrible dependency on oil the West has never fully shaken off, as the great motorway circulars pulse with vehicle lights.

A supertheme of my publication, TerraJoule.us, is that the next unit of global GDP is far likelier to be built on the back of the powergrid–electricity–rather than liquid fossil fuels. This concept may also sound confusing until you are introduced to the facts: oil has lost market share to all other energy sources for 15 straight years, and will do so again this year. Meanwhile, coal growth too has essentially gone quiet in the global powergrid as wind and solar storm into the gap, dominating marginal additions to new power supply. In domains like the US, however, the utter collapse of coal-fired generation is even more severe–and still underway. That’s why the TerraJoule.us Global Grid DeCarb Monitor is forecasting that an incredible 34% of all new generation globally this year will come from combined wind and solar.

While data is not available yet for 2015’s emissions in the OECD, it’s a certainty they will have fallen once again–possibly to 2009’s levels. For wonks who carefully inspect the future power capacity addition plans of Japan, Europe, and the US, the near future is pretty clear as well. Now that oil-based growth has halted in the OECD, and given that renewables now dominate marginal additions, you really have to ask yourself: how will the trend of declining OECD emissions be reversed? Indeed, the 2007 peak in OECD emissions is starting to look increasingly secure. | see: OECD CO2 Emissions in Million Tonnes 1994-2014.

OECD CO2 Emissions in Million Tonnes 1994-2014

–Gregor Macdonald