Thursday, May 03, 2007

Emissions intensity: Declining for decades

In case you are still not convinced that the emissions intensity concept is a sham, take a look at this graph.

In fact, don’t just look at it. E-mail a copy to the Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Or fax it to the Environment Minister. Or walk around Ottawa with it stapled to your forehead (er, ok, you can use tape instead).

I’ve calculated the change in global emissions intensity since 1750, using data on manmade CO2 emissions by (Oak Ridges National Lab) and a recreation of world GDP expressed in 1990 dollars.

The data is not perfect. Obviously the 1800 GDP is an estimate. But it demonstrates the point. Emissions intensity increased during the industrial revolution, as the world learned how to burn coal, drilling for, etc. Afterwards, we became more efficient in the way we produce and use energy.

Emissions increased throughout the 20th century, but not as fast as the economy. The global emissions intensity has been naturally decreasing - at an average rate of around 1.5%/year – since the early 1900s! The pace actually accelerated over the last few decades. Global emissions intensity dropped 27% during the 1990s alone.

The moral of the story: Emissions intensity is naturally decreasing as the economy becomes more efficient. This has been happening for a century. The idea – promoted in the Canadian government’s new climate plan and the Bush Administration’s 2002 policy – that reducing emissions intensity by a couple percent a year is the way to tackle greenhouse gas emissions is a complete farce.


Anonymous said...


Thank you for this. It is a brilliant thing to have done. The graph is wonderful.

It not only illustrates how incredibly flawed the Tory policy - I mean regulation - is, but also shows us how poorly the mainstream media have been responding to this. No such plan should be covered with anything but mocking scorn, and yet the mainstream media seem to think it fine to present as yet another policy over which we can argue.

Simon Donner said...

I wish I could claim brilliance. This is a case where the lack of critical coverage and analysis of climate policy has made the common sense seem brilliant.

Jason West said...


This is clearly a farce, and you show that nicely. Unfortunately, it's an effective farce because I have people say to me "but I thought Bush promised to reduce emissions" or the press will get it wrong "Bush promised to reduce emissions in 2002" (and leave out "intensity". A clear attempt at deception, and the only way we can fight it is education and not electing leaders intent on deceiving. God save Canada if it follows our path.