The global levels of carbon dioxide emissions from fossil-fuel combustion reached a record high of 31.6 gigatonnes (Gt) in 2011, only 1 Gt beneath the necessary levels required to keep global temperatures to a 2°C increase.
The figures are part of the preliminary estimates provided by the International Energy Agency (IEA) released Thursday.
Global carbon dioxide emissions reached a high of 31.6 gigatonnes in 2011, representing an increase of 1.0 Gt on 2010, or 3.2 percent. Of the 3.2 percent increase, coal accounted for 45 percent of total energy-related CO2 emissions in 2011, followed by oil at 35 percent and natural gas at 20 percent.
In 2009, the IEA released their 450 Scenario plan, which set out an aggressive timetable of actions to limit the long-term concentration of greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere to 450 parts per million. The 450 Scenario require CO2 emissions to peak at 32.6 Gt no later than 2017, but that does not seem likely considering the rate of increase and how close we already are to that figure.
“The new data provide further evidence that the door to a 2°C trajectory is about to close,” said IEA Chief Economist Fatih Birol.
A 6.1 increase in CO2 emissions in 2011 outside the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) was only partially offset by a 0.6 percent reduction in emissions within the OECD.
China was responsible for the largest contribution to the global increase with emissions rising by 720 million tonnes (Mt), or 9.3 percent, primarily as a result of their higher consumption of coal. However, China carbon intensity — the amount of carbon dioxide emitted per unit of GDP — fell by 15 percent between 2005 and 2011. If these gains had not been made, China’s CO2 emissions during 2011 would have been higher by a whopping 1.5 gigatonnes.
“What China has done over such a short period of time to improve energy efficiency and deploy clean energy is already paying major dividends to the global environment,” said Dr. Birol.
India’s emissions rose by 140 million tonnes, or 8.7 percent, pushing it ahead of Russia to become the fourth largest emitter of carbon dioxide behind China, the United States, and the European Union.
The United States saw a drop in CO2 emissions in 2011, with a drop of 92 million tonnes, or 1.7 percent, primarily thanks to the ongoing switch from coal to natural gas in the power generation sector and a surprisingly mild winter which reduced the need for space heating. This brings the United States drop in emissions to a total of 430 million tonnes, or 7.7 percent, since 2006, which ranks it as the highest reduction of all countries and regions.
CO2 emissions in the European Union in 2011 were lower by 69 million tonnes, or 1.9 percent, partially thanks to the slow economic growth and a relatively warm winter.
Japan saw emissions increase by 28 million tonnes, or 2.4 percent, as a result of a substantial increase in the use of fossil fuels in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear reactor incident.