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Study: Rate of CO2 Emissions Accelerating, Carbon Intensity in Global Economy Increasing

Fossil-fuel CO2 emissions for nine regions. Data source is EIA. Click to enlarge.

An open-access paper published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that worldwide CO2 emissions increased between 2000 and 2004 at a rate that is nearly three times the rate of increase of the 1990s. The rate increased from 1.1% per year during the 1990s to 3.1% per year in the early 2000s.

The study found that the accelerating growth rate is largely due to the increasing energy intensity of economic activity (the energy required to produce a unit of gross domestic product) and the carbon intensity of the energy system (the amount of carbon per unit of energy), coupled with increases in population and in per-capita gross domestic product.

In the unfolding reality since 2000, the average global carbon intensity of energy has actually deteriorated (increased) and no region is showing signs of decarbonizing its energy supply. The emissions growth rate since 2000 was greater than for the most fossil-fuel intensive of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change emissions scenarios developed in the late 1990s.

—Dr. Pep Canadell, Co-author of the paper and Executive Director of the Global Carbon Project

The research showed that the increases in energy and carbon intensities constitute a reversal of a long-term trend toward greater energy efficiency and reduced carbon intensities.

Despite the scientific consensus that carbon emissions are affecting the world’s climate, we are not seeing evidence of progress in managing those emissions in either the developed or developing countries. In many parts of the world, we are going backwards.

—Co-author Chris Field, Director of the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Global Ecology

The acceleration of carbon emissions is greatest in the exploding economies of developing regions, particularly China, where the increases mainly reflect increasing per capita gross domestic product. The study divided the world into the USA, the European Union, Japan, the nations of the former Soviet Union, China, India, and three regions covering the rest of the world.

Between 2000 and 2004 the developing countries accounted for a large majority of the growth in emissions, even though they contribute only about 40% of total emissions. In 2004, 73% of the growth in global emissions came from the developing and least developed economies, comprising 80% of the world’s population. That same year the developed areas (including the Former Soviet Union), contributed about 60% to the total emissions. These countries account for 77% of the cumulative emissions since the start of the industrial revolution.

Between 1980 and 2004, total emissions in the developed areas (USA, Europe, Japan, and other smaller economies) increased as a result of fast growth in per-capita gross domestic product, coupled with relatively slight increases in population. This growth was partially offset by decreases in the amount of energy needed to make each unit of product.

The world’s developing regions are the places where emissions are growing fastest in relative terms. However, this only means that developing regions are catching up: they are still a long way behind the developed regions in terms of total emissions. The developed regions, representing just 20% of the world’s population, account for nearly 60% of current emissions and 80% of cumulative CO2 emissions since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. These cumulative emissions are the leading cause of current climate change.

—Lead Author Mike Raupach, CSIRO and the Global Carbon Project

The study emphasizes that the growth in emissions can be caused by a variety of factors and that managing emissions in a growing economy requires progress in both the energy intensity of the economic system and the carbon intensity of the energy system.

Solving the first part of the puzzle requires shifting more of the economy toward activities like service industries and information technology, where emissions can be lower, and emphasizing energy efficiency. Solving the second requires deploying new sources of non-emitting energy like wind, solar, and nuclear power.

—Chris Field
Factors in the Kaya identity for all nine regions. The heavy black line (F) is the expression of CO2 emission flux. Click to enlarge.

The study used the Kaya identity—an expression of CO2 emission flux from fossil fuel combustion and industrial processes factoring in global population, world GDP, global primary energy consumption, per-capita world GDP, the energy intensity of world GDP, and the carbon intensity of energy—with annual time-series data on national emissions, population, energy consumption, and gross domestic product (GDP).


  • Global and regional drivers of accelerating CO2 emissions”; Michael R. Raupach, Gregg Marland, Philippe Ciais, Corinne Le Quéré, Josep G. Canadell, Gernot Klepper, Christopher B. Field; Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, May 2007. [Although the embargo on this paper has lifted, public access to the paper may be delayed briefly.]



The problem is that we need things, and that requires turning raw materials into manufactured goods that a service economy simply cannot do. This is an energy-intensive activity. Steel, aluminum, concrete, plastics, fertilizer, electricity, etc.. All these things are necessary in order to run our civilization. There is no way to put the genie back into the bottle, here.

Unfortunately that likely goes for the climate, too.

If we can't mitigate, we have to adapt. In fact, I doubt we'll be able to mitigate much. Ergo, we will have to adapt.


There will be both mitigation and adaption. At least some of us are mitigating already and this is likely to increase as time goes on. After all, the call for regulation will only become louder as the effects of climate change become more apparent. A good example is Australia where, because of drought, CO2 regulation has become a deciding election issue. At some point in time the detrimental consequences of climate change will outway the costs of mitigation to such a degree that the choice will be a no brainer for most people. The problem is that at that point it may be too late to reduce further impact. Then the question will be "what were they thinking....".


I didn't mean to sound quite so fatalistic. What I really meant is that I think the efforts to mitigate will increase exponentially. Whether this leads to meaningful CO2 reductions in time, I am optimistic but not certain. Bush is a major impediment. On an individual level, from examples posted on the web, it is almost trivial to cut your CO2 emissions in half if you try (at least in the US).



The problem is that we are between the proverbial rock and a hard place. We currently have no real replacements for fossil fuels as an energy source, for either electricity or transportation. Alternative energy costs are dropping, but not far or fast enough. They also have problems like intermittency, or distance (wind energy in the Dakotas to NYC, for example). And there is already a vocal opposition to these very same projects due to NIMBYism or environmental objections.

"What were they thinking..." We are thinking that the job ahead of us is potentially an insurmountable one. R&D continues, but there is no cost-effective, economical magic bullet. One may appear, but we can't depend on it.

What I do know is that if we're going to have the wherewithal to invest in whatever technologies do show up, we'll need the economic strength and enough private capital available to leap on them when/if they do appear.


Cervus, it seems that for a large number of American households, CO2 emissions can be halved very easily ( No new technology is required. So what is simply needed is enough motivation. This is where regulation must come in since not enough people are likely to simply volunteer until its too late. To reduce further than this seems to take more effort and perhaps technology will help us out here. I am hopeful.


Here you Cervus. This is what adaptation is going to look like.



How, exactly, does that contribute anything to this discussion? You're as bad as Stan.


Hey if it looks that cool maybe we don't have that much to worry about after all...


A little humour every now and again doesn't hurt...



Funny how Max and his buddies always have gasoline, too...

At any rate, after reading the site you recommended I can see a few problems, at least for the more expensive items like replacing a 'fridge or washing machine. $800 is a significant outlay for most people. I've already replaced bulbs that are on more than a couple hours per day with CFLs, but I have a kitchen of recessed lighting with a dimmer where they won't really work.

I've basically done all I can afford. When people start advocating regulations that may force me to choose products that either can't do the job I need them to or are otherwise significantly more expensive, I get leery.


Cervus, you may well have done all you reasonably can at this stage. However as you know there are millions of Americans that haven't. You would rather give up on mitigating climate change than regulate towards the simple kinds of changes these people have instigated?



I think it's better to use rebates or financial incentives like tax credits rather than outright "you can't buy that!" regulations, like Australia and Canada banning incandescent bulbs. Amazingly, Popular Mechanics had a rather extensive test of modern CFLs and found that they actually put out better light.

I'm not giving up on mitigation, but as I've stated, I get really leery about taking away individual liberties. I see a lot of "voluntary changes won't do the job!". Perhaps that's true, but the regulatory alternative makes me very uncomfortable.


As to the form of the regulation, I leave that to the economists (most of whom I hear favour a technology neutral CO2 tax). As long as it works, and with the least harm.


All in all, another deeply depressing report. With all the talk about the new green era, nothing dramatic or of any significance is being done. We have beaten to death the gas mileage issue here, so I won't go into that.

The next tough net is housing; we are still building houses that are way less efficient than they could be. Here in Colorado, a builder is putting together a whole development of 300 homes, all of which will have a net energy impact of zero. The net costs, considering reductions in energy costs, will be zero. It can be done, especially if it is done on a subdivision level.

If Amory Lovings is correct, we can do a lot more in the manufacturing area. But we need to bring on the incentives. In the mean time, we can try to direct our expenditures to things that help the environment and lower our impacts rather than all the crap that is out there from sale.

Generally speaking, there is the belief that we can continue to consume and grow and still deal with our environmental and energy issues. On the margin, we can do a lot, but at a certain point I believe we will have to cut our expenditures.

The hardest problem, of course, may be population, but a massive dieoff in the future may take care of that.

Geology may help solve the problem for us. There is a recent report out that says that we even be reaching peak coal soon in addition to peak oil. We can prepare or die, given that eventuality. My guess is that most of us will die.


This report simply states the facts.

Such as, despite all the green this and green that talk, the FACT is that Chinese factories will always go with the cheapest, which is usually the dirtiest.
Walmart and other retailers demand the lowest price from Chinese factories, then they in turn seek the lower cost production. If electricity from coal is much cheaper than green power from solar panels and turbines, guess which one they pick. Simple choice, really.

The simple truth is that despite all the talk in media and political circles, the actual actions of individuals and business remain the same, which generally uses more and dirtier power.

BTW, we cannot simply point fingers at companies as we are also responsible for much of power usage. Also we are consumers that can influence companies via retailers.

Cervus, "The problem is that we need things..."

In the west "... we want things ..."
In the developing "... we need things ..."

That is, we in the west make and use stuff that is not really necessary but we WANT - higher standard of living. Satisfying WANTs and opposed to NEEDs takes far more energy, more industrial activity, etc. Hence far higher energy use per capita.

Thus another message from the report is that other large regions, such as China and India are following the western example and switching from NEEDs to WANTs. Chinese no longer feel like riding a bicycle to work. They want cars. You cannot blame them of course as most of us drive cars, or trucks, or SUVs, or ... (but that is another topic)

So the west has already pushed environment to the edge, and now China & Co. are tipping it over.

If we were to attempt to find some sort of fair resolution, then all would compromise. China & Co. would slow down and seek cleaner tek, probably with help from West, while we in turn would rationalize our wants and learn some modesty.

For instacne we would throw away SUVs, trucks, etc. and replace them with hybrid/electric drives. We would replace airplanes with ships. Trucks with rail cargo. etc.

So we come full circle to the conclusion that a global problem such as this requires global co-ordination. Imagine that!?!

Finaly, the report states the obvious - there is no global co-ordination or any sort of serious effort besides an odd light bulb changing enthusiast.

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