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Renewable Energy Policies Actually Work

Renewable energy use and reduced energy use overall have helped carbon emissions remain flat or below average as the global economy continued to grow over the years. But, as new research has found, government policy also appears to play a large role. Slashdot reader AmiMoJo shares a report from Ars Technica: The researchers started by identifying countries that show a “peak and decline” pattern of carbon emissions since the 1990s. They came up with 18, all but one of them in Europe — the exception is the United States. For comparison, they created two different control groups of 30 countries, neither of which has seen emissions decline. One group saw high GDP growth, while the second saw moderate economic growth; in the past, these would have been associated with corresponding changes in emissions. Within each country, the researchers looked into whether there were government energy policies that could influence the trajectory of emissions. They also examined four items that could drive changes in emissions: total energy use, share of energy provided by fossil fuels, the carbon intensity of the overall energy mix, and efficiency (as measured by energy losses during use). On average, emissions in the decline group dropped by 2.4 percent over the decade between 2005 and 2015.

Half of this drop came from lowering the percentage of fossil fuels used, with renewables making a large contribution; another 35 percent came from a drop in energy use. But the most significant factor varied from country to country. Austria, Finland, and Sweden saw a drop in the share of fossil fuels within their energy mix. In contrast, a drop in total energy use was the biggest factor for France, Ireland, the Netherlands, Spain, and the United Kingdom. The U.S. was an odd one out, with all four possible factors playing significant roles in causing emissions to drop. For the two control groups, however, there was a single dominant factor: total energy use counted for 75 and 80 percent of the change in the low- and high-economic growth groups, respectively. But there was considerably more variability in the low-economic growth group. All of the high-growth group saw increased energy use contribute 60 percent of the growth in emissions or more. In contrast, some of the low-growth group actually saw their energy use drop. So why are some countries so successful at dropping their emissions? Part of it is likely to be economic growth, but the biggest reason may have to do with government policies. “By 2015, the countries in the group that saw declining emissions had an average of 35 policies that promoted renewable energy and another 23 that promoted energy efficiency,” reports Ars Technica. “Both of those numbers are significantly higher than the averages for the control groups. And there’s evidence that these policies are effective. The number of pro-efficiency policies correlated with the drop in energy use, while the number of renewable policies correlated with the drop in the share of fossil fuels.”

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