December 04, 2011
CO2 Emissions Soared In 2010

Great balls of fire. A whole lot of coal burning going on.

Emissions rose 5.9 percent in 2010, according to an analysis released Sunday by the Global Carbon Project, an international collaboration of scientists tracking the numbers.

How'd that happen? Big emissions growth from burning coal, mostly in Asia. China, with CO2 emissions growing 10.4% in just one year (amazing) now generates 25% of global emissions, having surpassed the US a few years ago. The US is in second place at 19% but is not growing as fast as the world average. Still, the US grew 4% in 2010. But with China up 10.4%, India up 9.2% (still only 5% of world total but rising), and Japan's up 6.8%. How much of the surge by Japan is due to a shift from nuclear power?

Here's a table for percentage of world total and growth in 2010 by nation.

Brazil's percentage growth is largest at 11.4% but Brazil only amounts to 1% of world total. India has a much greater potential to move up in the ranks and China looks set to continue to grow as a portion of world total CO2 emissions.

If you are worried about world CO2 emissions growth the only consolation I can offer is that China, India, and Russia have all decided to keep going with nuclear power development in spite of the Fukushima reactor disaster after the tsunami swept over those reactors. Also, some argue that Peak Coal is near. Not at all clear to me whether that is the case.

Until other electric power sources become cheaper than coal it looks like CO2 emissions are set to keep surging. An economic depression could temporarily stop and even reverse this trend. But only large cost reductions for nuclear, wind, and solar could cause a sustained reverse in the CO2 emissions trend. Only a small portion of the world's population want to pay a big price to cut CO2 emissions. Even the European Union with a financial crisis dampening their economy and lots of regulations and taxes aimed at cutting CO2 still managed a 2.2% growth in CO2 emissions.

Update: 49% growth in the last 20 years.

Global carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels have increased by 49 per cent in the last two decades, according to the latest figures by an international team, including researchers at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, University of East Anglia (UEA).

Published today in the journal Nature Climate Change, the new analysis by the Global Carbon Project shows fossil fuel emissions increased by 5.9 per cent in 2010 and by 49 per cent since 1990 the reference year for the Kyoto protocol.

On average, fossil fuel emissions have risen by 3.1 per cent each year between 2000 and 2010 three times the rate of increase during the 1990s. They are projected to continue to increase by 3.1 per cent in 2011.

Oil production growth is very low. That looks set to continue until global oil production starts falling. So future CO2 emissions growth will come from coal and natural gas. The dates for coal and natural gas peaks are harder to see than the peak for oil. How much higher can coal production go? That's probably the question that will determine when human CO2 emissions starts to decline.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2011 December 04 08:22 PM  Pollution Green House Gases

PacRim Jim said at December 4, 2011 10:38 PM:

Glad to hear this. It will delay the next ice age.

Robert Beck said at December 5, 2011 6:45 AM:

In the distant future, people will look back and laugh at the way their ancestors (us) worried about CO2. Unless they have been impoverished by this generation's failure to intelligently manage fossil fuel sources, our un-willingness to design realistic long-range research and development programs for future energy requirements, and our failure to teach our children to think about solving problems instead of occupying public property for environmental justice (whatever that is).

Yawn said at December 5, 2011 12:33 PM:

Isn't "Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, University of East Anglia (UEA)" the same group involve in all of that Climate Gate scandal? It makes you wonder ...

Randall Parker said at December 5, 2011 7:37 PM:

Robert Beck,

It might really be the case that humanity faces bigger problems from natural resource depletion than from global warming. I say that even if global warming is a real problem.

PacRim Jim,

We don't face an imminent threat from an ice age and there are plenty of cheap ways to warm up the planet if we need to.

Placebo said at December 6, 2011 1:31 PM:

Randall: "there are plenty of cheap ways to warm up the planet if we need to." Can you elaborate?

Randall Parker said at December 7, 2011 6:54 PM:


See my climate engineering category archive for mostly posts on cooling techniques. I've written less about how to do warming because it is not seen as an urgent need. But to give you a sense of the possibilities check out this from a US EPA page on High Global Warming Potential (GWP) Gases.

Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6) are potent greenhouse gases, and some persist in the environment for thousands of years. These gases, referred to as high global warming potential gases (high GWPs) are from 140-23,900 times more potent than CO2 in terms of their capabilities to trap heat in the atmosphere over a 100-year period. Also, because they remain in the atmosphere almost indefinitely, concentrations of these gases will increase as long as emissions continue.

That's some very potent stuff.

We could also make the planet darker and put up satellites that will reflect light toward Earth. These are more expensive measures.

dlr said at December 19, 2011 7:46 PM:

"But only large cost reductions for nuclear, wind, and solar could cause a sustained reverse in the CO2 emissions trend. "

Don't forget biofuel, which is to say, algae...."Researchers estimate that algae could yield 61,000 litres per hectare, compared with 200 litres to 450 litres from crops such as soya and canola"

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