Global Carbon Emissions Reached Record High In 2012

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Global carbon emissions reached a new high in 2012, rising by 1.4% to 31.6 billion tons, according to the International Energy Agency. The large rise in emissions was led by China, which released 300 million more tons in 2012 than it did in 2011.

Image Credit: Climate Change via Flickr CC
Image Credit: Climate Change via Flickr CC

As well as leading the pack with regards to increased rates of emissions, China was also the leader with regards to total emissions. It’s worth noting, though, that the rise was one of the lowest rises in the country during all of the last decade — perhaps a sign that China’s rapid growth is beginning to slow, as well as being a reflection of its considerable investment into renewable energy and energy efficiency.

The US and Europe both experienced slight drops in emission levels. With regards to the US, the slight decrease in emission levels was largely the result of decreased coal use and increased use of renewable energy and natural gas in its place. Total emission levels in the US dropped back down to where they were in the mid-1990s. In Europe, the decline was largely attributed to increased renewable energy use, the economic slowdown, and emissions caps on industrial and power companies.

In Japan, carbon emissions rose by about 70 million tons, at least partially as a result of the phasing out nuclear energy after the Fukushima disaster.

According to the IEA, the world is currently on track to experience an average global temperature rise of about 3.6 and 5.3 degrees Celsius by the end of the century.

The general consensus in the scientific community currently is that the global average temperature rise “needs to be limited to below 2 degrees Celsius this century to prevent devastating climate effects like crop failure and melting glaciers,” as Reuters notes.

Of course, some researchers have argued that even 2 degrees of warming would be “too much” — having profound effects on the agricultural systems, freshwater resources, industrial infrastructure, economies, and political stability of the world. Regardless, though, we are currently on track for far more than 2 degrees of warming….

“Global energy-related greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 are projected to be nearly 4 billion tons higher than a level consistent with attaining the 2 degree target, highlighting the scale of the challenge still to be tackled just in this decade,” the IEA stated.

Reuters adds that the IEA has “urged governments to quickly adopt four policies that would ensure climate goals could be reached without harming economic growth. They are: improving energy efficiency in buildings, industry and transport; limiting the construction and use of inefficient power plants; halving methane emissions; and partially phasing out fossil fuel subsidies.”

According to the IEA, these actions would lower global energy-related emissions by about 8% or 3.1 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2020.

In related news, the UN recently released a report predicting that the world’s population would climb much faster than was previously predicted — reaching 11 billion people by the year 2100. With regards to carbon emissions, what does that mean? Given the enormous quantities of carbon dioxide, methane, and black soot, released by the activities of a population of “only” 7 billion, what would a world with 11 billion people be like?

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James Ayre

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy.

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