Insights

Success: Decoupling of economic growth from coal

Is the global economy decoupling from energy-related emissions? Last year, world emission of CO2 remained at 32.3 billion tonnes, while world GDP grew by 2.9%. The world’s power sector grew less than the economy, and while this has happened before (the early 1980’s, 1992, and 2009 [1]), this is the first time in 40 years that we are observing a relative reduction in emissions during a period of economic growth.

“This a hopeful demonstration of the fact that we can decarbonize and grow the economy at the same time.”

Michael Mann, climatologist, geophysicist, and director, Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University

Why is this happening?

According to the International Energy Agency, the major drivers of the emissions reduction are China’s changing energy policy and improved energy-efficiency standards in OECD countries. China, the world’s biggest carbon polluter, is shifting to more hydroelectric and solar energy sources and imposing efficiency standards, thereby significantly reducing its consumption of coal.

Investors beware

Carbon Tracker ‘s new report claims that the U.S. coal industry has lost 76% of its value over the past five years, despite the Dow Jones industrial average increasing by 69%. It notes that at least 264 mines were closed between 2011 and 2013, and that the largest producer in the U.S., Peabody Energy, lost 80% of its share price.

Coal’s problems seem structural rather than cyclical, and, “rather than betting on a cyclical upturn, investors should resist the urge to get back into the US coal sector.”

“The roof has fallen in on U.S. coal, and alarm bells should be ringing for investors in related sectors around the world.”

Andrew Grant, Carbon Tracker, & co-author of The US Coal Crash

More divestment decisions, especially by those investors who are paying close attention to long term trends, are expected. “There’s a growing understanding that coal doesn’t just threaten our health and our climate,” says Greenpeace spokesman Joe Smyth, “It’s a bad bet for investors as well.”

[1] after the oil price shock and US recession in the early 1980s; in 1992 after the collapse of the former Soviet Union; and in 2009 during the global financial crisis.

 

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