Worldwide carbon emissions hit record high, energy agency says

Under the IEA’s “450 Scenario,” stabilizing atmospheric greenhouse gases at 450 parts per million of CO2-equivalent means that emissions must peak at 32.6 Gt by 2017, which is just 1 Gt above last year’s levels.

“The new data provide further evidence that the door to a 2°C trajectory is about to close,” said IEA Chief Economist Fatih Birol said in a statement.

He spoke even more starkly to Reuters.

“When I look at this data, the trend is perfectly in line with a temperature increase of 6 degrees Celsius (by 2050), which would have devastating consequences for the planet,” Birol told the news service.

In the United States, emissions actually fell by 92 million tons (mt), or 1.7 percent, which the IEA attributes to a shift away from coal — still the nation’s biggest power source — and increased use of natural gas, as well as the mild 2011 winter.

“US emissions have now fallen by 430 Mt (7.7%) since 2006, the largest reduction of all countries or regions. This development has arisen from lower oil use in the transport sector (linked to efficiency improvements, higher oil prices and the economic downturn which has cut vehicle miles travelled) and a substantial shift from coal to gas in the power sector,” reports the IEA, which is a 28-nation body that works on energy security, economic development and environmental issues.

The IEA data shows bad news and good news from China, which is the world’s largest emitter (the United States is in second place).

“China made the largest contribution to the global increase, with its emissions rising by 720 million tonnes (Mt), or 9.3%, primarily due to higher coal consumption,” IEA said. But their report also credits China’s efforts to boost energy efficiency and green energy, warning the increase could have been a lot worse.

“China’s carbon intensity — the amount of CO2 emitted per unit of GDP — fell by 15% between 2005 and 2011. Had these gains not been made, China’s CO2 emissions in 2011 would have been higher by 1.5 Gt,” IEA said.