“Fossil fuels provide jobs.” “You can’t get rid of fossil fuels without killing the economy.” “Developing nations need fossil fuels to alleviate poverty.”
This is just a sampling of the argument frequently made against addressing climate change—that burning fossil fuels is necessary for national economies. However, new data from the World Resources Institute (WRI), shows that national economies have been simultaneously growing while reducing their pollution levels.
Figuring out how to strengthen national economies without burning fossil fuels has been a big challenge for nations hoping to combat climate change. Rich nations, like the United States, have relied on fossil fuels for over 100 years. And as developing nations look to transition their poor populations into the middle class, they too have turned to cheap and available fossil fuels.
A total of 21 nations, including the United States, Germany, and France had economic growth since 2000, but also reduced their GHG emissions.
According to Nate Aden, a research fellow at WRI, there was no singular reason for countries’ ability to achieve economic growth while reducing emissions.
In a blog post, he wrote: “Sweden, for example, implemented ambitious policies including carbon taxes that supported its decoupling. Denmark’s rapid increase in renewable energy reduced emissions while stimulating local production.”
The United States was the largest country included in the trend of reducing emissions alongside several consecutive years of economic growth.
“From 2010 to 2012, energy-related carbon dioxide emissions declined by 6 percent (from 5.58 to 5.23 billion metric tons), while GDP grew by 4 percent (from $14.8 to $15.4 trillion),” Aden said.
De-industrialization, a decline in activity in the industrial sector, has been occurring for years in advanced economies, such as the United States. According to Aden, this trend is also happening within developing nations. Additionally, more energy efficient factories and workers’ ability to produce more goods per working hour has helped reduce carbon pollution levels.
However, some developing nations have a ways to go in combating climate change. China, which ranks first in global emissions of green hose gases, and India, which ranks third (after the United States) were not included in the list.
Ranting Song, a China specialist at WRI, noted that China’s recent commitment to peak CO2 emissions around 2030 meant that it “essentially committed to decouple economy growth and carbon emissions.”
“The country will need to develop innovative, efficient, and advanced manufacturing, grow its service economy, and shift to less resource intensive consumption patterns, all of which are reflected in the 13th Five-Year-Plan,” Son said.