The world’s greenhouse gas emissions rose to record levels in 2011 because China’s jumped 9.3%, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).
After dipping in the recession during 2009, global carbon emissions also hit their highest mark ever in 2010, rising 5% from the previous record year in 2008.
In 2011, Emissions declined in the US and Europe but not enough to counter China’s rise. Worldwide emissions rose 3.2%.
China’s increase comes from rising use of coal, but IEA points out it could have been much higher – the country is making good progress on energy efficiency and use of renewable energy.
In fact, the trends are favorable in China over the longer term. Carbon intensity – emissions per unit of GDP – dropped 15% from 2005-2011, demonstrating the country is finding less carbon-intensive ways to grow, says the IEA.
Emissions declined 1.7% in the US and 1.9% in Europe, largely because of sluggish economies, greater use of natural gas rather than coal and a mild winter.
"The replacement of coal by shale gas is a key factor and what happened in the U.S. could very well happen in China and other countries and could definitely help in reducing CO2 emissions," IEA chief economist Fatih Birol told Reuters.
Japan’s emissions rose 2.4% because it was forced to use natural gas instead of nuclear.
"US emissions have fallen 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," says the the IEA.
"When I look at this data, the trend is perfectly in line with a temperature increase of 6 degrees Celsius this century, which would have devastating consequences for the planet," Birol told Reuters.
To keep global average temperature rise below the agreed upon 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees F), emissions can be no higher than 44 billion metric tons of CO2 equivalent in 2020. In 2011, 34.83 billion tons entered the atmosphere.
Over the past year, the typically conservative International Energy Agency has urged governments to stop subsidizing fossil fuels, move away from coal and to instead subsidize renewable energy and significantly boost energy efficiency to stabilize the earth’s climate.
Governments are falling badly behind on low-carbon energy, putting carbon reduction targets out of reach and pushing the world to the brink of catastrophic climate change, said the IEA in a recent report. Our addiction to fossil fuels grows stronger each year. Clean energy technologies are not being deployed quickly enough.
IEA prefers a price on carbon, saying it would spur widespread innovation and be more effective than subsidizing individual technologies.
Close to 80% of the world’s energy supply could be met by renewables by mid-century if backed by the right enabling public policies.
Negotiations Moving Too Slowly
For the past two weeks, negotiators from over 180 nations have been meeting in Bonn, Germany, following-up from the Durban Climate Summit.
In Durban, the international community agreed to create a new binding international climate treaty that would be signed by 2015 and take effect by 2020. The Kyoto Protocol expires this year.
Much of the time has been spent discussing how the agenda would proceed, leaving many angry and frustrated by the lack of substantive progress.
Some nations accused others of backtracking from the emissions reductions commitments made at Durban; for others, there’s a reluctance to raise them further because of financial constraints. And some felt the airing of opinions was necessary and useful, and that some progress was made on forests and how to help developing countries.
It’s widely agreed the commitments made in Durban are not high enough to keep temperatures from rising over 2 degrees.
Advanced nations are being asked to raise their targets and developing countries are being asked to make pledges for the first time. A key agreement in Durban was that every country would participate in the next binding treaty.
Issues under discussion include: how long the next treaty will last; where long-term financing will come from to help developing countries adapt to climate change; and specific emission targets of countries.
After Kyoto expires, the EU and some smaller nations accounting for 15% of global emissions have pledged to continue those commitments until a new treaty is formed. The US never signed on, Canada pulled out. Japan and Russia say they will not continue those commitments. Australia and New Zealand will decide later this year.
"We’re moving in the right direction, but it clearly needs to be increased in speed and scale," Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which guides the negotiations, told reporters.
"My sense is we’ll conclude this agreement in the next four years, and we will have an outcome, but that it will be quite difficult along the way," says Jonathan Pershing, the U.S. delegation chief.
The next Climate Summit is at the end of November in Qatar, and there’s talk of another negotiating sessions before that in Bangkok.