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The Emissions Intensity Con

May 18, 2017

By Paul Homewood




Jo Nova contrasted some apparently contradictory headlines the other day:


In the last day in the media, India is going to use coal as its backbone energy for the next thirty years, is buying coal mines all around the world, and will double production by 2020 to a massive 1,500 million tons per annum. At the same time India is meetings its climate goals early, and is likely to reduce emissions by 2 – 3 billion tons by 2030.

They can’t all be true:

Coal to be India’s energy mainstay for next 30 years: policy paper

–Economic Times, May 16th

China, India dominate coal ownership as some shun climate risks: report

– Reuters, May 15th

Coal Decline In China & India Likely To Reduce Emissions Growth By 2-3 Billion Tonnes By 2030

– Cleantechnica, May 16th

China, India to Reach Climate Goals Years Early, as U.S. Likely to Fall Far Short

-InsideClimateNews, May 16th

The top two headlines are backed by big numbers: India is the worlds third largest coal producer, and coal powers 60% of India’s energy needs. But the poor investors or readers of industry rags might think India’s coal use is falling. Read the fine print.

Lessons in spin:

It’s all in how an issue is framed. The third headline talks about “reductions” from forecast values, meaning theoretical savings of emissions “that might have been, but weren’t”.

The fourth headline tells us that the two massive coal producing nations are “meeting climate targets early” which just shows how pathetic the climate targets are.

If these countries are a “success” what does failure look like?

We have to teach children (adults) how to filter these contradictions.



The key clause in India’s climate pledge, the INDC submitted for Paris, is this:




And as their plan also stated, emissions intensity has had already dropped by 17% from 2005 levels, when it was written.

As I pointed out at the time, such promises of reducing emissions intensity are meaningless, since that is what naturally happens anyway as economies mature.

And it was not only India which made such commitments. Many other developing countries, not least China, also did the same, rather than agreeing to actual cuts in CO2 emissions.


To see just how far emissions intensity can fall, we only have to look at the UK.


Since 1965 real GDP, ie with the effect of inflation taken out, has increased from £590bn to £1832bn. Meanwhile emissions have fallen from 687 to 436 million tonnes, much of this drop occurring prior to 2000.

As a result, emissions intensity has fallen steadily, and is now just a fifth of what it was in 1965, with little input from government.




There are many reasons for this perfectly natural trend, but they include:

  • As economies mature, most of the growth tends to involve low energy consuming sectors, such as services, government and consumer products.
  • Technology brings higher productivity to industry, in other words getting more out for what you put in. This often means better energy efficiency, but also involves making more efficient use of materials and other inputs. Energy consumption per unit therefore falls both directly and indirectly.
  • Power production itself also becomes much more efficient in its use of fuel.
  • Products also become much more fuel efficient. You only have to look at cars to see that.


In short, pledges by developing countries to reduce emissions intensity per unit of GDP are worthless in themselves. And, at the level they have been set, they require little effort to reach them (which of course was the whole point).

Expect many more headlines claiming that they are set to reach their climate goals early.

  1. May 18, 2017 3:53 pm

    I was taught to view things with “discernment”. Funny schools no longer stress that. Hmmm.

  2. CheshireRed permalink
    May 19, 2017 8:20 am

    While we’re on the subject of cons, there’s the consistently-used line of attack from the Green lobby that should be called out again and again for what it is; propaganda falsely disguised as scientific fact.

    The model is always the same; present an authoritative sounding ‘study’ by ‘climate scientists’ to ‘predict’ catastrophe – always man-made and usually way off into the future. None of the claims can be substantiated because, well it’s the future, innit? But of course the whole point is not to make accurate projections but to deliver more scary headlines to consolidate ‘climate change’ policy and funding. Here’s the latest offering from the Guardian.

    • CheshireRed permalink
      May 19, 2017 12:25 pm

      And another, this time a very photogenic effort from the NYT where Justin Gillis excels in the hysteria stakes. Lovely images though, so worth a look for that alone.

    • Rowland H permalink
      May 20, 2017 8:47 am

      The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed, and hence clamorous to be led to safety, by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary. H L Mencken (1880 – 1956)

      • catweazle666 permalink
        May 20, 2017 1:24 pm

        Quite so.

        Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming is – up to now – the most successful hobgoblin of the lot.

  3. richard verney permalink
    May 19, 2017 9:29 am

    There is so much ENRON type accounting going on in this political scare.

    The only issue is what happens to CO2 levels in absolute terms. Are CO2 emissions in absolute terms being reduced or not? Since CO2 is a well mixed gas (well so the claim goes), it does not matter where globally the emissions take place. The off-shoring of CO2 emissions (eg., where a country cuts back its steel industry but then imports finished steel) does nothing to reduce the perceived problem of increasing levels of CO2 in the planet’s atmosphere. Tax on carbon/carbon trading etc does nothing in real terms to curb global emissions. It wholly fails to address the issue and is simply sleight of hand accounting.

    This is a problem with Biomass. In absolute terms Biomass increases CO2 emissions. Burning Biomass between now and 2030 will increase in absolute terms the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.

    There is simply no realism behind any of these claims. China, India, Russia, Brazil and the like are going to increase emissions between now and 2030. There is no getting away from that fact. No one has yet come up with any workable system whereby future CO2 emissions can realistically be scaled back on a global basis.

    • May 19, 2017 10:57 am

      First: My own calculations indicate to me that a doubling (say to 600 ppm) of CO2 will have minimal influence on the current ongoing natural climate change. This based on the Lambert law of absorption.
      Secondly: if the objective is to reduce CO2 emissions then the route to the end would to develope the Thorium molten salt reactor technology which has the potential to generate power cheaper than coal with very high levels of safety inherent in the technology, not currently available in the current nuclear designs.
      Can anyone explain to me why this obvious solution is not being given the attention it deserves?

    • catweazle666 permalink
      May 19, 2017 7:59 pm

      “There is so much ENRON type accounting going on in this political scare.”

      Given that the concept of ‘Carbon Credits’ was dreamed up by Al Gore and Ken Lay, that’s hardly surprising.

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