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David Fickling

This Week May Turn the Tide on Two Centuries of Emissions

China will present climate and energy plans that could determine the fate of the planet. If they live up to their promise, we can reset expectations for decarbonization. 

Imagine if all this smoke went up in smoke.

Imagine if all this smoke went up in smoke.

Photographer: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images AsiaPac

Looking at the way the world’s carbon emissions have risen in recent decades, it’s tempting to believe that increasing pollution is an ineluctable law of nature.

That’s by no means a heretical view. Vaclav Smil, the Czech-Canadian energy analyst revered by Bill Gates, has often pointed to the growth in pollution since the 1980s as evidence that a transition to cleaner forms of energy will inevitably come too slowly to save the world from disaster.

“During those decades of rising concerns about global warming the world has been running into fossil carbon, not moving away from it,” he wrote in one 2019 study. Climate scientist Ken Caldeira made a $2,000, 10-year bet with energy analyst Ted Nordhaus in January that 2019 wouldn’t prove the peak of global carbon emissions