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Global Carbon Emissions Hit Record High, Report Finds

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In a development that underscores the widening gap between the necessary steps to limit global warming and the policies that governments are actually putting into place, a new report shows that global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions will likely reach a record high of 35.6 billion tonnes in 2012, up 2.6 percent from 2011. Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases warm the planet by absorbing the sun’s energy and preventing heat from escaping back into space.

The analysis by the Global Carbon Project at the University of East Anglia and the Tyndall Center for Climate Change Research in the U.K. shows that China, the U.S., the European Union (E.U.) and India were the biggest emitters of global warming gases in 2011.

Human-generated emissions of carbon dioxide this year are expected to reach 35.6 billion tons. That’s up 2.6 percent from what was emitted in 2011, the previous record holder.
Click to enlarge image.
Credit: Climate Central

Absent significant emissions cuts in the next two decades, climate scientists say that the worst consequences of global warming may be unavoidable, such as several feet of sea level rise due to rapid melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, along with more extreme weather events and harm to ocean ecosystems due to ocean acidification.

The new figures indicate that global emissions from burning fossil fuels are now 58 percent above 1990 levels, which was the baseline year used in the Kyoto Protocol. That is the only global agreement in place that contains mandatory emissions reductions requirements. However, developing countries such as China and India do not have mandatory reductions under that agreement.

Some industrialized countries such as the U.S. have slowed, and in some cases reversed, their emissions growth recently due to the economic downturn and the increased use of natural gas for generating electricity (natural gas emits fewer greenhouse gases than coal-fired power plants). But those trends have been more than offset by the rapid growth in emissions from developing countries. In China, emissions grew by 9.9 percent in 2011, and in India emissions rose by 7.5 percent. That compares to an emissions decrease of 1.8 percent in the U.S., and 2.8 percent in the E.U. during the same period.

The amount of heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached a record 390.9 parts per million (ppm) in 2011, according to a report released Nov. 20 by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). That’s a 40 percent increase over levels in 1750, before humans began burning fossil fuels in earnest. According to the Global Carbon Project, there hasn't been this much CO2 in Earth's atmosphere since at least 800,000 years ago. 

Trend in atmospheric CO2 levels observed at Mauna Loa, Hawaii, since 1958.
Click to enlarge the image. 
Credit: NOAA.

Although CO2 is still the most significant long-lived greenhouse gas, levels of other heat-trapping gases have also climbed to record levels, according to the report. Methane, for example hit 1,813 parts per billion (ppb) in 2011, and nitrous oxide rose to 324.2 ppb. All told, the amount of excess heat prevented from escaping into outer space was 30 percent higher in 2011 than it was as recently as 1990.

During the 2009 U.N. climate negotiations in Copenhagen, countries committed to a non-binding target of keeping global warming to under 2°C, or 3.6°F, compared to the preindustrial levels. However, as the World Bank Report noted and the Global Carbon Project report also said, current emissions trends indicate that the world is on track for far more warming than that, perhaps as much as 7°F of warming by 2060. The World Bank highlighted the dire consequences such warming could have for human health and safety — including dangerous sea level rise, heat waves, and other extreme weather events.

The latest figures come at the same time as diplomats are meeting in Doha, Qatar, to discuss how to move forward with a new international climate change agreement. Only incremental progress toward a new treaty is expected at this meeting, however.

“These latest figures come amidst talks in Doha. But with emissions continuing to grow, it’s as if no one is listening to the entire scientific community,” said Tyndall Center, director of Corinne Le Quere, in a press release. “I am worried that the risks of dangerous climate change are too high on our current emissions trajectory. We need a radical plan.”

Along with this report, which is published in the journal Nature Climate Change, other analyses have been released from the International Energy Agency, United Nations Environment Program, and the World Bank, among others, that have also highlighted the fact that the world is on track for far more warming than political leaders have agreed upon.

Related Content:
CO2 Hits New High, World Could Warm 7°F By 2060
Amid Energy Boom, Report Warns of Unsustainable Path
Sea Level Rise Accelerating Faster Than Original Projections
Emissions Reduction Pledges Fall Far Short of Copenhagen Accord

Comments

By Gerald Wilhite
on December 3rd, 2012

I don’t understand the basis of your story.
 
I thought the AGW hypothesis has been put in the scientific trash can by the UK MET Office. Over the past 16 years CO2 has significantly increased while global temperatures have been flat. This is hard data that directly refutes the AGW hypothesis. Bottom line? The hypothesis has been falsified.

This sends AGW advocates back to the drawing board, doesn’t it?

Reply to this comment

By Chuck (Mountain View, AR. 72560)
on December 3rd, 2012

Gerald, you don’t understand the basis of science obviously. Get your news from FOX? How about stepping outside and making an observation of the temperature being 20 degrees ABOVE NORMAL IN DECEMBER. How about asking the folks who just got hit by hurricane Sandy how it feels to lose everything and not be able to rebuild? How about asking the folks out in California how it feels to get 2ft of rain all at once? How about asking the people in the mid west what it’s like to completely run out of hay to feed their livestock? How about asking people relying on barge traffic what it’s like having the Mississippi River shut down indefinitely due to lack of water? Don’t be a putz. That’s just in this country in the last few months and doesn’t include all the other bizarre weather events happening around the world including the melting of Greenland, the Arctic Ice Cap and West Antarctica. Frozen ice is fresh water for billions of people around the world. When that ice disappears you get to do without. Good luck.

Reply to this comment

By wili
on December 4th, 2012

http://www.skepticalscience.com/graphics.php?g=47

Reply to this comment

By deon
on December 4th, 2012

Why is everyone pro coal and anti nuclear ? far more people are affected by coal than by nuclear. Nuclear power is green in comparison to coal and not nearly as dangerous as it is made out to be. If the public are given all the correct facts regarding nuclear power generation then we may see a change of attitude towards nuclear power.

Reply to this comment

By bobarl (Holland Patent, NY 13354)
on December 4th, 2012

Looks like Mr. Wilhite is reading some statement? The MET office made it?. Where in the world is he getting the idea that temperatures are flat?” This is no hypothesis and no one has “falsified” it. I’d like to know just where Mr. Wilhite gets this bit of news and how does he explain what is happening to the increasing melting of ice caps and the melting permafrost, and many other environmental problems occurring on the planet. Anyone can see that the weather is changing, even in my backyard. I don’t understand the basis of HIS story.

Reply to this comment

By G K
on December 4th, 2012

I am sure the Kyoto agree would have stopped China and India from increasing their emissions if they had only been party to it.  The money grab It represented was too much even for the US Senate to swallow.

Does anybody know how to remove CO2 from the atmosphere and sequester it underground? If someone did, who would pay for it.

Reply to this comment

By Wayne Justice (North Olmsted)
on December 5th, 2012

Yes, carbon based GH gases have risen.  However, the largest GH gas is water vapor.  There is no way to measure
this gas.  Statements claiming that the world’s greenhouse gases have increased are uncertain at best and totally false at worst. Who knows how much water vapor CO2, for instance,  has displaced.  Recent studies suggest this is happening in the thermosphere.  So, while CO2 has certainly increased, water vapor may have decreased by simple displacement.  So, the net result, is that GHGs may not have increased at all.  Remember too, the effects of increased clouds.  When clouds reflect energy upward, this energy leaves the system and returns to space.  It’s gone for good.
Energy slowed from the below builds up somewhat.  So, which is greater? Obviously, the reflected energy upwards is much greater.  The net effects of clouds is cooling, not warming.  Worried about global warming?  Make more clouds.

Reply to this comment

By Henry W. Justice (North Olmsted, OH)
on December 5th, 2012

Re: “.... the amount of excess heat prevented from escaping into outer space was 30 percent higher in 2011 than it was as recently as 1990.”  According to recent NASA studies, far more heat than predicted is actually escaping into space.  “The NASA satellite data from the years 2000 through 2011 show the Earth’s atmosphere is allowing far more heat to be released into space than alarmist computer models have predicted, reports a new study in the peer-reviewed science journal Remote Sensing. ” See: “New NASA Data Blow Gaping Hole in Global Warming Alarmism”  Could a real climate expert explain how this might be true given this NASA information.

Reply to this comment

By Graham R.L. Cowan (Cobourg, Ontario)
on December 6th, 2012

G K asks whether anyone knows how to “remove CO2 from the atmosphere and sequester it underground”. Drs Schuiling and Tickell do (http://www.innovationconcepts.eu/res/literatuurSchuiling/olivineagainstclimatechange23.pdf ), but as that document reveals, there is no need for the stuff to be stored *underground*. Its natural tendency is to form minerals that can sit on the surface, or dissolve in the sea.

Reply to this comment

By Mi Muba (Karachi)
on December 8th, 2012

How unlucky we are; we just have to express concerns over the rising level of pollution and the polluters - bigger or smaller - are continuing to add pollution load on this fragile planet earth. What I mean to say Silence over pollution is itself a crime
People like me and you (and thousands other) are raising vioce against crime of polluting but access of people like ours is little less at the policy making levels; more particularly in least developed countries.

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