The World Resources Council recently reported that between 2000 and 2014, 21 countries, including the U.S., Germany, the U.K., Spain and Sweden, all managed to “decouple” GDP growth from CO2 emissions — i.e. GDP in these countries expanded over this 14-year period while CO2 emissions fell. This is certainly a favorable development. But the crucial question remains: how favorable is it relative to what is necessary to put the global economy on a successful path to climate stabilization?
As of the most recent worldwide data (2012), global CO2 emissions are at around 32 billion tons per year. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) provides conservative benchmarks as to what is required to stabilize the average global temperature at no more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) above the pre-industrial average. The IPCC presents these benchmarks in terms of ranges and probabilities, but a fair summary of their assessment is that global CO2 emissions need to fall by 40 percent within 20 years, to 20 billion tons per year, and by 80 percent as of 2050, to 7 billion tons.