Recently released emission data from IEA. Reproduced from “Skeptical Science“.
Back in the early 2000s, when I was starting to study peak oil, I used to think that oil depletion was our main problem. Climate change seemed to me a threat for the remote future and, probably, automatically solved by the depletion of fossil fuels. Over the years, however, I saw more and more data accumulating that show that it is not so. I am now convinced that climate change is a much more serious threat to humankind than peak oil.
The most recent data on carbon emissions, published by IEA, are reinforcing my impression. Greenhouse gas emission are NOT going down, despite oil production having probably peaked. The recovery that we are experiencing, weak as it is, has been enough to push emissions to an all-time record high. We are generating more and more CO2, probably, also because depletion is forcing the industry to turn more and more to “dirty” fuels, such as tar sands.
The graph from IEA is especially worrisome because it says nothing about the parallel evolution of methane emissions, another, more powerful, greenhouse gas which is emitted as a result of the extraction and processing of natural gas. Methane emissions are on the rise, too, and the trend toward extraction of shale gas may make the situation worse.
Many times the IPCC has been accused of being too pessimistic and of not having considered depletion in the proposed scenario. But it seems that depletion is not biting on emissions as much as several studies had proposed. Rather, we seem to be following the “worst case” scenario of the several that the IPCC had proposed.
In the future, it may be that the effect of depletion will be felt more strongly but, for the time being, “peak emissions” seem to be far away.