Recession Cuts Emissions: Good News or Bad News?


The recession has caused a 2.6 percent drop in carbon dioxide emissions – the biggest drop in 40 years, Environmental Leader reports. Although this sounds like great news for the environment, some analysts worry about what effect it could have on nations’ motivation to further curb emissions. Are these figures good news or bad news?

The figures were released just a day before the September 22nd UN Climate Summit in New York City, where many world leaders expressed concern for the U.S. and China’s promises on climate change action. These nations appeared to be dragging their feet on reaching a consensus with other nations on a global climate treaty. Analysts worry that the reported 2.6 percent drop in CO2 levels could be seen as an excuse for the U.S. and China (and other nations) to further stall in making changes. Moreover, many nations have made the U.S.’s commitment to carbon reduction targets a prerequisite for their own carbon commitments.

These concerns could be echoed within the U.S., where legislators are also dragging their feet on reaching a climate deal. There are indications that the Senate could delay approving cap-and-trade legislation until 2010, which would have a number of negative consequences both domestically and abroad.

Moreover, while the current (low) economy most likely caused the 2.6 percent drop, the drop could still signal bad news for the future economy if world leaders do not coordinate emissions trimming. According to the Environmental Leader report, such coordination could provide a number of benefits – jobs creation, economic growth from green stimulus packages, and a reduction in the price of carbon permits among them. Therefore, by failing to coordinate, leaders could miss out on these benefits.

Is there any good news involved in the recession-caused drop in CO2 emissions? Yes, according to U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu. “Success or failure will be determined by what happens in the coming years and coming decades,” he reportedly said, and the UN Climate Change Conference shouldn’t be seen as an end point.

I, for one, don’t share Chu’s stance. In my opinion, reaching an agreement at the Conference will be too little too late at best. If the current state of disjointed affairs is allowed to unravel further – even just a little – the results could be disastrous.

And as for whether the biggest drop in CO2 emissions in 40 years being good news or bad news… I think it’ll probably end up being a drop in the bucket. Part of me says that, if the global mindset was sufficiently solidified (to the point it needs to be solidified by now), the figures wouldn’t even be an issue.

What are your thoughts on the issue?

Sarah Harper is a professional writer based in San Francisco, California. Her interests include sustainability, government policy, and international politics. In her free time, Sarah enjoys toying with the idea of holistic health, overanalysis, and plotting world exploration.

One response

  1. Regarding the drop in emissions, I think it is neither good news or bad news. It is simply a consequence of the economic downturn. It is a “non-event.” Most certainly a drop in the bucket, if even that.

    As for Copenhagen; while I am probably a bit more pessimistic than many here at 3P, I’d have to take exception to an agreement reached at COP15 as being “too little too late.” What’s the alternative? Clearly we are well behind the eight ball in terms of dealing with climate disruption, but dismissing a positive outcome this December is merely too little too late goes beyond even my pessimism!
    There are many issues being hammered out right now, and hopefully at least some start to an agreement can be reached in Copenhagen. The CDM, technology transfer, emissions targets, deforestation, and the list goes on. We must, in my opinion, resist the notion these issues cannot be addressed and push forward in spite of the difficulties and “dark clouds.” Failing in Copenhagen is not an option.
    While it is likely that there will be much left to hammer out come January, I agree with Chu that Copenhagen is not an end point, but the beginning of how the world finally manages to cope with climate and the consequences of our modern society. “Too little too late” seems, for me, to guarantee failure.

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