Global emissions of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, from fossil fuel and cement production are projected to reach a record 36 billion tonnes this year, with China driving much of the growth, an annual snapshot of global greenhouse gas emissions released on Tuesday shows.
The total is unprecedented and builds on a surge of global greenhouse gas emissions since the year 2000, with China, the world’s top emitter, now producing 27 percent of mankind’s carbon emissions versus 14 percent from the United States. Seven years ago, both countries were about equal.
The Global Carbon Project said emissions from fossil fuels and cement are estimated to grow 2.1 percent this year, following a 2.1 percent rise in 2012. There are increasing fears the rapid growth of emissions is fuelling more extreme weather such as Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines and Cyclone Cleopatra, which hit parts of the Mediterranean this week.
The release of the update also adds further urgency to the Nov 11-22 U.N. climate talks in Warsaw, Poland. The spate of recent extreme weather has heightened calls for stronger action on fighting climate change but the talks have struggled to make much progress, with anger directed at some countries, such as Japan and Australia, for rolling back on tougher emissions cuts or trying to scrap emissions tax schemes.
The annual report by the Global Carbon Project is among the most definitive analyses of global emissions and involved 77 people from 46 organisations in 14 countries. It uses data from the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center of the U.S. Oak Ridge National Laboratory, United Nations Energy Statistics, the U.S. Geological Survey and BP energy data.
According to Pep Canadell, the project’s executive director, China contributed to 71 percent of the global increase in carbon dioxide emissions for 2012, while India accounted for 21 percent and Japan 11 percent in the wake of the nuclear power plant shutdowns caused by the 2011 quake and tsunami.
“What China does is very relevant,” Canadell told a media briefing on Tuesday, pointing to China’s efforts to increase renewable energy investment and to cap coal use. He said China’s emissions growth eased to 5.9 percent in 2012 from nearly 10 percent growth in 2011. That compares with an average of about 8 percent annual emissions growth over the past decade.
Despite China’s green energy investments, such as a big jump in hydro power generation, China’s coal consumption grew 6.4 percent in 2012, he said, so it was still hard to say whether China’s efforts to cool the economy and boost renewables would quickly lead to a significant decline in emissions growth.
RISE OF DEVELOPING NATIONS
Overall, the data shows the continuing trend of rapid growth in emissions in developing countries and declines in many richer nations. For example, in 1990 (the base year for the U.N. Kyoto Protocol climate pact), 62 percent of global emissions were produced by developed countries and 34 percent by developing nations.
By 2012, the order had reversed with 37 percent of emissions produced by richer nations and 57 percent in developing countries.
Land use emissions, such as clearing forests for agriculture, are declining, the report said.
“Here there’s a good news story,” Michael Raupach, a senior scientist with the Global Carbon Project, told the media briefing. Carbon emissions from deforestation and other land use change totalled 3.3 billion tonnes on average during 2003-2012, accounting for about 8 percent of all emissions from human activity.
The figures, he said, show a decrease from the average of 5.1 billion tonnes during the decade of 1990s, due in part to better land management policies, tougher law enforcement to stop illegal deforestation and new afforestation and regrowth of previously deforested areas.
He expected the declining trend to hold, despite a recent uptick in deforestation.
Brazil last week reported a 28 percent increase in deforestation in the Amazon from August 2012 to July this year, compared with the year earlier. A landmark global deforestation survey published in the journal Science last week, revealed the world lost 2.3 million square kilometres of forest between 2000 and 2012, but also added 800,000 sq km through natural regrowth and plantations.
The Global Carbon Project study also revealed the dramatic swing in how much CO2 is taken up by the land, such as trees.
Of mankind’s greenhouse gas emissions, about 45 percent stays in the atmosphere, 27 percent is soaked up by the oceans and about 27 percent is taken up by the land. But in 2012, the land sink took up only about 23 percent because of a strong La Nina weather episode, the authors say, much less than the previous year.
Raupach said that in 2011, the land sink took up 39 percent of carbon emissions, underscoring the potential of forests and other land-based carbon sinks to soak up CO2 — and the peril in destroying them.
The Global Carbon Project also released its Global Carbon Atlas, an online platform to explore, map and analyse emissions data for the globe or for individual countries, such as emissions per capita, versus GDP, historical contribution as well as how emissions have varied over the past 800,000 years.
Qatar takes top spot for emissions of CO2 per capita at 44 tonnes, while Canada is 19th with 15 tonnes. Australia is 15th with 16 tonnes, just one spot behind the United States, also with 16 tonnes.
(David Fogarty writes about climate change and the environment and is a media adviser for the Climate and Land Use Alliance.)