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?
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.
In a paper published today in Nature Geoscience, the authors found that despite the major financial crisis that hit the world last year, global CO2 emissions from the burning of fossil fuel in 2009 were only 1.3 per cent below the record 2008 figures. This is less than half the drop predicted a year ago.
The industrialized nations saw big drops in CO2 emissions. 8.6% for UK is much deeper than GDP figures would lead one to expect.
The global financial crisis severely affected western economies, leading to large reductions in CO2 emissions. For example, UK emissions were 8.6% lower in 2009 than in 2008. Similar figures apply to USA, Japan, France, Germany, and most other industrialised nations.
But the CO2 emissions growth in China and India suggests rapid economic growth in these countries while Western countries languished.
However, emerging economies had a strong economic performance despite the financial crisis, and recorded substantial increases in CO2 emissions (e.g. China +8 per cent, India +6.2 per cent).
Professor Pierre Friedlingstein, lead author of the research, said: "The 2009 drop in CO2 emissions is less than half that anticipated a year ago. This is because the drop in world Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was less than anticipated and the carbon intensity of world GDP, which is the amount of CO2 released per unit of GDP, improved by only 0.7 per cent in 2009 – well below its long-term average of 1.7% per year."
The poor improvements in carbon intensity were caused by an increased share of fossil-fuel CO2 emissions produced by emerging economies with a relatively high carbon intensity, and an increasing reliance on coal.
China now makes more cars per year than the United States. That effectively bakes in a big future growth in Chinese oil consumption. But currently an astounding 74% of China's energy comes from coal. That's a rare level of dependence on coal.
Coal supplied the vast majority (74 percent) of China’s total energy consumption requirements in 2008. Oil is the second-largest source, accounting for 15 percent of the country’s total energy consumption. While China has made an effort to diversify its energy supplies, hydroelectric sources (7 percent), natural gas (4 percent), nuclear power (1 percent), and other renewables (0.2 percent) account for relatively small amounts of China’s energy consumption mix. EIA envisages coal’s share of the energy mix will fall to 62 percent by 2035 due to anticipated increased efficiencies and China’s goal to reduce its carbon intensity or carbon emissions per unit of GDP by at least 40 percent from 2005 levels by 2020. China also recently announced plans to reduce its energy intensity levels (energy consumed per unit of GDP) by 31 percent from 2010 to 2020 and increase non-fossil fuel energy consumption to 15 percent of the energy mix in the same time period.
I expect the Chinese economy to diversify away from coal out of necessity. The Chinese government is considering a limit on coal production growth in order to stretch dwindling reserves. Wind and nuclear will become larger electric power sources. But Chinese CO2 emissions will continue to grow for years if they can find fossil fuels to burn.
BusinessWeek has an article on how more potent green house gases are rising more in the atmosphere than would be predicted by various reported industrial sources for them. The worry is that users are cheating and hiding the extent of their use of gases like sulfur hexafluoride (SF6), which is 23,900 times more potent a warmer than carbon dioxide.
If you believe the reports, emissions of SF6 are declining. The reports are wrong. When researchers actually measure the chemical in the air, they find it in quantities more than three times greater than what the reported amounts would indicate—and levels are increasing, not declining. The findings were a surprise, says NOAA's Tans: "It wasn't on anyone's radar screen."
What happens when carbon taxes raise the economic stakes for compliance?
It's a cautionary tale. "If we can cheat on something like sulfur hexafluoride, what happens when carbon dioxide is worth $50 or $100 per ton?" asks Michael R. Woelk, CEO of Picarro, a measuring instruments company in Sunnyvale, Calif.
Nitrogen trifluoride is a similar story.
SF6 is not unique. Scripps' Weiss has found more than three times as much nitrogen trifluoride (NF3) in the atmosphere as he expected. NF3 is a chemical used in flat panel manufacturing—and is a powerful greenhouse gas.
The article says that since China doesn't have to report its greenhouse gas emissions (and strongly opposed a requirement to report emissions in the recent Copenhagen negotiations) we do not know how much of these emissions are coming from China. Given China's rapid economic growth if they are a major source of these rare but potent gases they are probably going to become a much bigger problem.
Click thru and read the full article for the details.