Global carbon emissions to hit record 36 billion tonnes in 2013

Global emissions of carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels are set to rise by more than 2% to reach a record high of 36 billion tonnes, according to new figures from the Global Carbon Project.

Co-led by researchers from the Tyndall Centre at the University of East Anglia (UEA), the 2.1% rise projected for 2013 means global emissions from burning fossil fuel are 61% above 1990 levels, the baseline year for the Kyoto Protocol.

Professor Corinne Le Quéré of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia, who led the Global Carbon Budget report, said: “Governments meeting in Warsaw this week need to agree on how to reverse this trend. Emissions must fall substantially and rapidly if we are to limit global climate change to below two degrees. Additional emissions every year cause further warming and climate change.”

In addition to the release of today’s figures, the Global Carbon Project has launched a new online platform, which provides more detail on the world’s biggest carbon emitters.

The platform reveals that the biggest contributors to fossil fuel emissions in 2012 were China (27%), the US (14%), the European Union (10%), and India (6%). The projected rise for 2013 comes after a similar rise of 2.2%in 2012.

However, the rise in fossil fuel emissions in 2012 and 2013 was slower compared to the average 2.7% of the past 10 years. Growth rates in CO2 for major emitting countries in 2012 were China (5.9%) and India (7.7%). Meanwhile, US emissions declined by 3.7% and Europe declined by 1.8%.

While emissions per person in China matched figures in the EU at seven tonnes in 2012, the US is still among the highest emitter per person at 16 tonnes. By comparison people in India produce a carbon footprint of just 1.8 tonnes.

Turning to the source of emissions, the research found that most emissions are from coal (43%), then oil (33%), gas (18%), cement (5.3%) and gas flaring (0.6%). The growth in coal in 2012 accounted for 54% of the growth in fossil fuel emissions.

The figures also showed that CO2 emissions from deforestation and other land-use change added 8% to the emissions from burning fossil fuels.

Cumulative emissions of CO2 since 1870 are set to reach 2015 billion tonnes in 2013 – with 70% caused by burning fossil fuels and 30% from deforestation and other land-use changes.

Professor Pierre Friedlingstein from the University of Exeter said: “We have exhausted about 70% of the cumulative emissions that keep global climate change likely below two degrees. In terms of CO2 emissions, we are following the highest climate change scenario of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released in September.”

Leigh Stringer

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