The Paris Climate Conference: Taking stock of greenhouse gas emissions

In December this year, representatives of 196 countries will attempt to reach an agreement to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions with the aim of limiting global temperatures increase to less than 2 degrees. If this Conference of the Parties (COP 21) in Paris is successful it will be the first time, from 2020, that both developed and developing countries will commit to tackling GHG emissions.

Just a week before the Paris Climate Conference, this post takes stock of historic trends in emissions for both developed and less developed countries, details the current rates of emissions (increases and reductions) and examines when the ‘carbon budget’ to stay within 2⁰C of global average warming will likely be exhausted.

With GHG emissions rising, can world leaders take the necessary steps in Paris to reduce emissions to ‘safe’ levels?

Global annual greenhouse gas emissions are increasing, but growth may have stalled in 2014…

Industrialisation processes of the 18th and 19th century saw humans begin to burn fossil fuels at an increasing rate. Annual fossil fuel emissions have more than tripled since the 1960s and the rate of increase has been faster in recent decades.

However, the latest figures for global CO2 emissions in 2014, published on Wednesday 26 November 2015, showed a distinct ‘slowdown’ in the rate of emission growth. An increase of only 0.5% in 2014 is less than the 1.5% in 2013, 0.8% in 2012 and an average of 4% a year over the previous decade.

Global annual GHG emissions from fossil-fuel use and cement production (GtC/yr), 1959-2013
Figure1AclSource: Trends in global CO2 emissions: 2014 Report, House of Commons Library analysis

Much of this increase is attributable to the increasing industrialisation of what are now middle-income countries, in particular China whose emissions have nearly trebled since the turn of the century. At the same time, many developed countries have been able to stabilise their emissions, and in some instances even reduce their emissions.

Annual CO2 emissions from fossil-fuel use and cement production in BRICs countries, 1990-2013

Figure2AclSource: EU EDGAR database, House of Commons Library analysis

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)

Historically, it is the developed world where the majority of greenhouse gases have been emitted. In 1992, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was adopted. This treaty placed different obligations on countries at different stages of development. Roughly speaking, the treaty separated the world into two groups.

  • The Annex I Parties: countries classified as industrialised; and
  • The Non-Annex I Parties: mostly low-income, developing countries.
  • The chart below shows that while there is a shrinking proportion of annual emissions coming from the 43 Annex I countries, it was not until 2006, that the aggregate emissions from the 153 Non-Annex 1 countries (which includes China) overtook their developed world counterparts.
Annual global CO2 emissions from fossil-fuel use and cement production Non-annex 1/Annex 1 countries, 1970-2013

Figure3AclSource: EU EDGAR database, House of Commons Library analysis

How successful have Annex-I countries been at reducing their emissions?

The objective of the UNFCCC treaty, set out in article 2 of the Convention, is to “stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.”

Since the treaty was signed in 1992, annual global GHG emissions have increased from around 22 GtCO2 a year to more than 35 GtCO2. However, during that same period emissions from Annex-I countries have remained more or less constant at around 14 GtCO2.

Aggregate global annual CO2 emissions from fossil-fuel use and cement production Non-annex 1/annex 1 countries, 1992-2013

Figure4AclSource: EU EDGAR database, House of Commons Library analysis

Since 1992, Annex-1 countries have, on the whole, managed to stabilise their annual emissions. Indeed, the direction of travel for emissions in the most developed countries are down (except for the US, which has seen a small rise in annual emissions). At the same time, India and China’s emissions have more than doubled. This reflects both their industrialisation and economic development since 1992. But also as many argue that emissions from manufacturing and industry has to a large extent been exported from the developed world to emerging and middle income countries. The following chart compares the 2013 emissions of the 6 biggest emitters in 2013 (and the UK) with their 1992 emissions before the UNFCCC was signed.

Annual CO2 emissions from fossil-fuel use and cement production in 1992 and 2013 for the Top 6 emitters (and the UK) in 2013

Figure5AclSource: EU EDGAR database, House of Commons Library analysis

The European Union (EU) has been at the forefront of negotiations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The EU-28 countries have reduced their total annual emissions by around 10% since 1992. In 1992, the EU-28 was responsible for 4.1 GtCO2 which had been reduced to 3.7GtCO2 in 2013, and reduced its contribution to global emissions from 18% to 10.5%.

Per capita emissions

Considering total national emissions alone does not provide the whole picture, as countries with larger populations are likely to have higher emissions. Another way, and many argue a more equitable way, to think about the relative contributions to global emissions, is on a per capita basis. In 2013, for example, the Chinese per capita CO2 level of 7.4 tonnes exceeded the mean EU28 level of 7.3 tonnes, but remained still under half the US level of 16.6 tonnes. India’s per capita emissions were still very low, 1.7 tonnes, despite also being one of the major global emitters.

CO2/capita emissions, 1990–2013 (tonnes CO2 per person) selected countries
Figure6AclSource: Trends in global CO2 emissions; 2014 Report, House of Commons Library analysis

The ‘carbon budget’ and cumulative emissions

Dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system for some time now been broadly defined as a global average temperature increase of above 2⁰C. The IPCC fifth assessment report estimated that having a likely or 66% chance of limiting global temperature increases to 2oC would require total emissions from human sources to be limited to 1000Gt CO2 from 2011. The chart below details different projected ‘emissions pathways’ between now and 2100 and the associated temperature increases. In 2013 global emissions were 39.3Gt CO2. This means that the 1000Gt budget would be used up in 21 years, by 2036, if emissions continue unabated at current levels.

Figure7AclSource: IPCC, Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Figure SPM.10 – Global mean surface temperature increase as a function of cumulative total global CO2 emissions.

As a consequence of these emissions, atmospheric concentrations of CO2 first crossed the 400 ppm threshold in 2013, some 120ppm higher than in the pre-industrial period (before 1850). Increased atmospheric CO2 concentrations result in higher global average temperatures, and earlier this month, the UK Met Office announced that global average temperatures, for the period January to September 2015, were more than one degree above pre-industrial levels. The first time that this threshold has been breached.

When will emissions peak?

The Committee on Climate Change has previously stated that in order for global average temperatures to not rise above 2⁰C, global emissions should peak by 2020 and be halved (or more) by 2050. On the cusp of the Paris Climate Conference, hopes have been raised that peak emissions may now be in sight with a slowdown in global emissions in 2014. Global emissions growth slowed in 2014 to just 0.5%, following growth of just 0.8% in 2012, 1.5% in 2013 and an average of 4% a year over the previous decade.

CO2 emissions from fossil-fuel use and cement production in the top 5 emitting countries and the EU
Figure8AclSource: Olivier JGJ et al. (2015), Trends in global CO2 emissions; 2015 Report: Figure 2.2.

The report’s authors primarily attribute this slowdown to a lack of growth in Chinese coal use. Indeed, for the two biggest emitters (China and the US) emissions in 2014 increased by only 0.9% and the European Union’s emissions dropped by an unprecedented 5.4%. However increases in other countries continue. For example India’s emissions, rose by 7.8% between 2013 and 2014.

Authors: David Hirst and Elena Ares


Tax Credit & Universal Credit changes: impact of a 75% taper (Part 2)

On 26 October 2015 the Government was defeated in the House of Lords following a debate on its proposed changes to tax credits.  The Chancellor responded that the Government would “continue to reform tax credits and save the money needed so that Britain lives within its means, while at the same time lessening the impact on families during the transition.”  Plans are to be set out in the Autumn Statement on 25 November.

In response to concerns about the impact of tax credit changes as originally announced in the Summer Budget, Ministers cited examples of families who would be better off as a result of the overall package of changes announced in the Summer Budget. In several cases these figures were derived from Table 1.8 of the Summer Budget Red Book. Our previous blog piece, Tax Credit & Universal Credit changes: impact on example families, examined how these calculations can be replicated and expanded upon.

On 5 November 2015 the Chancellor was reported to be considering increasing the net income taper in Universal Credit from 65% to 75%.

Setting aside the issue of whether the family scenarios in the Red Book table are representative of families as a whole, how would the families presented in the Red Book fare should the Universal Credit taper be increased from 65% to 75%?

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Tax Credit & Universal Credit changes: impact on example families (Part 1)

Summer Budget 2015 included proposals to reduce the income threshold for tax credits – the amount families can earn before their award starts to reduce – and to increase the “taper” – the rate at which tax credits are withdrawn as family income increases – from 41% to 48%.  The changes were to have taken effect from April 2016, and were expected to deliver savings of around £4.4 billion in 2016-17. Commons Briefing Paper CBP-7300, Tax Credit changes from April 2016, gives details.

On 26 October the Government was defeated in the House of Lords following a debate on the regulations to implement the changes. The Chancellor is expected to set out alternative plans in the Autumn Statement on 25 November.

Using “ready reckoners” developed by the Library – calculators that, when a family’s circumstances are inputted, output the benefit and tax credit awards for which they qualify – we can replicate and expand upon examples families presented in the Summer Budget Red Book to investigate what the impact of any such changes on these families might be.

In this, the first of two blog pieces, we explore how example scenarios provided in the Summer Budget Red Book can be replicated and the assumptions made to produce these calculations.

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Parliament and World War One

As part of Parliament’s centenary commemorations for the First World War, a series of events have been planned to highlight the role Parliament played during the conflict. This includes remembering Members, staff and women who served or influenced Parliament during this period and ultimately the 24 Peers and 22 MPs who died in the conflict. Continue reading

The coming UK 2015 National Security Strategy – advance insights into the financial context

Later this month, the UK Government will publish a new National Security Strategy (NSS) to replace the 2010 version. Within a matter of days, the outcomes of the 2015 spending review and the new Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) will also be announced. At that point, people will start poring over the documents to make their initial judgements about their strengths and weaknesses.

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Setting the Living Wage: a Q&A

It’s Living Wage Week and the Mayor of London and the Living Wage Foundation have announced new Living Wage rates for 2015. But while there is lots of discussion about the benefits of paying the Living Wage, less attention is paid to how it is calculated and what it represents. In particular, there are inconsistencies between how the London Living Wage rate and the Living Wage rate for the rest of the UK are calculated.

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Driving up cybersecurity standards: Is TalkTalk just the latest in a litany of data breaches?

The TalkTalk cyberattack in the last week is just the latest in a litany of data breaches at large and small companies alike. This is the third hack on TalkTalk in 2015 alone and a survey of UK companies in 2015 found that in the past year 74% of small businesses and 90% of large ones had suffered a cyber breach. While in 2014, the so-called ‘Heartbleed’ bug, allowed hackers to steal passwords, credit card details, encryption keys and other sensitive data, without leaving any trace from some of the web’s largest sites, including Facebook, Google, Yahoo and Amazon.

Percent of small and large companies surveyed who had a cybersecurity breach in the past year, 2013-2015


Source: BIS Information Security Breaches Survey, 2013, 2014 and 2015.

Our increasing reliance on internet-connected devices has been accompanied by the development of a new set of cyber threats and it seems to be the case that the question is not if, but when, the next hack happens.

So what steps can the Government take to support better cybersecurity protocols and what is the industry doing to protect itself against future hacks.

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A brief guide to the period before the EU referendum

The European Union Referendum Bill 2015-16 (the Bill) provides for a referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union to be held before the end of 2017. The Bill does not specify the date of the referendum. This has led to speculation over when the referendum will be held, and when we will find out. There are provisions in the Bill and in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (PPERA) that affect the minimum length of time between the announcement of the date of the referendum and the poll. With the Bill currently in the House of Lords, these provisions could still change. In this post, I explain how the date of the poll will be set and when purdah and campaign finance rules come into effect, under the Bill in its current form.

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