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IEA estimates energy-related CO2 emissions in 2010 highest in history; 80% of projected 2020 emissions from the power sector are already locked in

30 May 2011

Energy-related carbon-dioxide (CO2) emissions in 2010 were the highest in history, according to the latest estimates by the International Energy Agency (IEA). After a dip in 2009 caused by the global financial crisis, emissions are estimated to have climbed to a record 30.6 Gigatonnes (Gt), a 5% jump from the previous record year in 2008, when levels reached 29.3 Gt.

In terms of fuels, 44% of the estimated CO2 emissions in 2010 came from coal, 36% from oil, and 20% from natural gas. In addition, the IEA has estimated that 80% of projected emissions from the power sector in 2020 are already locked in, as they will come from power plants that are currently in place or under construction today.

While the IEA estimates that 40% of global emissions came from OECD countries in 2010, these countries only accounted for 25% of emissions growth compared to 2009. Non-OECD countries—led by China and India—saw much stronger increases in emissions as their economic growth accelerated.

However, on a per capita basis, OECD countries collectively emitted 10 tonnes, compared with 5.8 tonnes for China, and 1.5 tonnes in India.

This significant increase in CO2 emissions and the locking in of future emissions due to infrastructure investments represent a serious setback to our hopes of limiting the global rise in temperature to no more than 2ºC.

—Dr. Fatih Birol, Chief Economist at the IEA

Global leaders agreed a target of limiting temperature increase to 2 °C at the UN climate change talks in Cancun in 2010. For this goal to be achieved, the long-term concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere must be limited to around 450 parts per million of CO2-equivalent—a 5% increase compared to an estimated 430 parts per million in 2000—according to the IEA. Some scientists suggest the level must be even lower—i.e., 350 ppm. (Earlier post.)

The IEA’s 2010 World Energy Outlook set out the 450 Scenario, an energy pathway consistent with achieving the 450 ppm goal, based on the emissions targets countries have agreed to reach by 2020. For this pathway to be achieved, global energy-related emissions in 2020 must not be greater than 32 Gt. This means that over the next ten years, emissions must rise less in total than they did between 2009 and 2010.

Our latest estimates are another wake-up call. The world has edged incredibly close to the level of emissions that should not be reached until 2020 if the 2ºC target is to be attained. Given the shrinking room for manœuvre in 2020, unless bold and decisive decisions are made very soon, it will be extremely challenging to succeed in achieving this global goal agreed in Cancun.

—Dr. Birol

These latest estimates from the IEA are “a stark warning” to governments to provide strong new progress this year towards global solutions to climate change, UN Climate Chief Christiana Figueres said.

Governments are meeting next week in Bonn to prepare for the next major international climate conference to be held in Durban at the end of the year. It is clear that they need to push the world further down the right track to avoid dangerous climate change. I won’t hear that this is impossible. Governments must make it possible for society, business and science to get this job done.

—Christiana Figueres

Figueres said that in Durban, governments will have two main challenges that they have agreed to resolve:

  • To strengthen the international conditions that will allow nations to work together to make deeper global emission cuts. This includes the question of deciding the future of the Kyoto Protocol.

  • To agree on the effective designs of the new climate institutions that will provide adequate and efficient climate support to developing countries. This includes the Green Climate Fund, Technology Mechanism and establishing the Adaptation Committee.

May 30, 2011 in Climate Change, Emissions, Policy | Permalink | Comments (27) | TrackBack (0)


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The three culprits are: Coal, Oil and NG/SG. It will not be long before we reach 40+ Gt unless we have another man (speculator) made financial crisis/bubble which is well on its way with the social type programs selling at 200+ times their value.

Sad news indeed, but not really a surprise to me, I never thought that the world would be able to revert the trends of growing CO2 emissions, not with emerging countries like China and India but also US refusing to sign Kyoto protocol. So we are doomed at lesst on the short medium term. The other bad news is as Conventional Oil reserves production is close to peak, we will turn to dirty stuff like Tar Sands, Coal to liquid that will accelerate the CO2 emission. So we will have to live with the idea that our world is getting warmer and with all the unintended consequences of it ...

IGCC fuel plants use the carbon twice or can sequester in older oil wells. The world uses the energy is does and will use more as time goes on. We can use it more efficiently and wisely.

The developing world is building loads of electricity generating plant.
The developed world already has it, but would like to be more efficient (and has the money to do it).
If you could find an "honest" way of doing it, it would be useful for the "west" to fund the difference between what they would have put in vs what we would like them to put in.
Surely cheaper than ripping out perfectly good plant in the west to replace it with greener stuff.
They key word is "Honest" and done in such a way that it does not prevent them being more efficient anyway.

It sounds like emissions trading which is full of holes and distortions.

Tricky - especially when coal is cheap.

Sorry but does it take a PhD to grok more fossil burned, the higher the emissions? Question is, so what? There is no link to global warming outside the eccentric theory of AGW.

But there are dozens of REEL reasons to end our consumption of fossil fuels. The first is it costs too much. And it damages domestic economies and JOBS. And it compromises security.

If job losses continue it will result in a massive focus of mindshare on the disruptive technologies. These WILL end the bottleneck nearly overnight. And it WILL shut the old school energy cartels down. Permanently.

It's time to choose. How do we want to proceed? A hybrid power structure utilizing the vast renewables portfolio plus revitalized old grid? Or restructure the global economy and power balance overnight by obviating fossil and classic renewables??

Let's be smart. Let's learn to share.

Sorry Reel,

Apparently every major Academy of Science in the world is 'eccentric' for accepting the science behind human-induced climate change but you are not. Rejection of climate change science is based in right-wing political ideology not science.Why do you think it is strongest in the US where this ideology has its home?

Reel$$ - You undercut your argument by railing against AGW. Those who believe in it reject the rest of what you say just as those who don't believe in AGW reject all statements from those who do.

I agree with your solution and sent the Obama team a message during their campaign -- quit arguing for renewable energy based on AGW, but rather base it on security and economy. The end result is the same, but without the rancor.

Did you know that Canada (forgot) to report Tar Sands associated CO2 emissions. Even without Tar Sands, Canada has not done very well. Many could see a very close relationship between Tar Sands operators and current Federal Government.


1st : the fossil energy cost too much? : not true for coal and nat gas, only for oil.

2nd : as pointed out in other post above nobody care about you AWG denial, the link between AWG and fossil energy use is widely accepted even by most of politics, so you are just loosing your time here on this nice website that focus on solutions to revert AWG and other polluting emissions..

Coal and natural gas are cheap compared to oil. If you blow the carbon out of the smoke stack in a regular coal plant AND blow it out the tailpipes in cars, you have more carbon AND a higher bill for foreign oil.

If you gasify the coal and use some natural gas and biomass, you can create fuels that use the carbon in coal without producing more. Lower our emissions of CO2, particulates, sulfur and mercury as well as reduce our bill for buying imported oil.

I won't belabor the point gentlemen. The results of the last two climate conferences confirms the political dismissal of AGW.

@JMartin I have been sending the same message for several years now. Recently we are seeing good direction from DOE and other Administration programs. By pushing the security issue it is possible to enlist the right wing. Few thinking people can deny the need to halt our $450B annual addiction to foreign oil.

@Treehugger - you are right; coal and NG are cheap domestic resources. The challenge is to get politicians and public to stop importing oil and electrify light transport. BTW, when you posted earlier you were better at English;)

@SJC - you have the best grasp of the practical conversion to domestic resources - mixing renewable and fossil during transition. Not ideal but better.

A major part of power sharing is the conversion of residences and light industry to CHP/water heater appliances. Power sharing means distributed energy in the residential sector. As I've noted many times, this is a WIN for environment, efficiency and security. That's Win, Win, Win.

We expect new JOB offerings and investment from this realignment.

Face it. Nothing is going to be done to keep the worst climate change from happening. What is it, 20-30 years and the Tibetan Plateau will be melted out and China and India will start starving. Food prices will sky rocket with China cornering the grain market then smaller countries will take the hit and chaos will reign and countries will fail. Even the US will see the lower economic rungs of the population in even more stress than now. Then the permafrost melt will kick in with lots of methane. Greenland will be next and the world's coastal population (70% in the US) will start migrating in-country leaving behind most of the industrial infrastructure. Equatorial populations will be going north in waves. The US Pentagon study of '04 puts it all in perspective. Buy a piece of land away from major population centers and start getting off the grid and self sufficient for your kids and grand kids to have some place safe to come to.

Off grid in the Sierras sounds nice...


Oh yea political dismissal of AWG, sure by Republican lobbyists who don't give a s... about the problems of this world and still think that US can dominate the rest of the world by sticking to policies that made the success of US in the 50s. We have no doubt that they already have your vote.

Reels is making an important point: Why waste time debating over the truth or myth of man-made climate change and just get on with the job of focussing on sustainability which is getting ever more important by the day?

It's articles like this which, on this forum, acts as a troll sparking an endless 30+ post re-rehearsal of the usual cliches that we have all heard before, which quite frankly is irritating and not constructive.

Time to agree to disagree and focus on matters which have common ground.

Energy in the world is like a huge ocean going tanker, it does not stop fast, it does not turn fast and it does not accelerate fast. With that in mind we need to find methods that will work now and for the coming years then plan beyond that. To say that we will all drive EVs powered by the wind and sun real soon now is fantasy.

SJC exactly. Drive down the highway at rush hour. More likely creep. Look around, see any EV or Fuel Cells? Nope. See many Hybrids? Nope. If CO2 stays in the atmosphere, what, 50-75 years depending on who you ask, and we are what, 5,10,15,20 years from making a dent in transportation CO2? Then where's the point? We're looking at 100 years of current and larger amounts. I hate to say it but that's past the cut off point isn't it? Greenhouse Cliff here we come like a bunch of fossil fuel powered Lemmings.
Start looking after yourselves, cause nobody else is going to. Sierra's? Sounds good to me. But I was thinking Montana.

Scott gets it. Progress is being made. Recognizing it and not screeching alarm is what continues progress. The economic and national security arguments are powerful persuaders for the political right. Rather than curling up in a whiny ball - if greens get on board with the Energy Independence campaign - they'll end up with what they want.

It takes compromise. And DOING things. Doubtless we would still be without passenger PHEVs today if not for a small group of people who built Tesla and Volt. That spawned the whole EV movement which appears to be adopted by most major auto makers.

Trouble with gloom and doom alarm is it WILL be realized if you believe it. Some guys want to run away. Others stick around to make things better. When you DO something - it causes ripples in the ol' continuum.

Bottom line: without immediate co-creation of jobs, market opportunities and cash for Energy Independence - disruptive technology WILL take global mindshare... As Cronkite used to say, "That's the way it is."

Gee, you can read that article and still think we are going to do something about it? LOL. Who's going to do something? I know California is making a stab at it. But to the disgust and anger of every politician taking fossil energy money. And there's the rub. No federal politician taking a million bucks a year from coal and oil is going to lift a finger. That leaves states and local that are going in fits and starts. And the research groups, if you read these articles are all going in different directions at the same time with every idea to come down the pike. Who reigns it in and says this is best do this? Again, politicians? Right.
There is no concerted or directed effort. No Manhattan Project. No commitment and still a good level of disbelieve if not just head scratching. We are going to yell and point ourselves into oblivion. Go ahead and comment. It'll fix it. Get 'er done. I went to biodiesel in 2000 for my vehicle, use compact florescent bulbs, convinced 3 people to drive hybrids,
my wife and kids take the bus everywhere, we keep the heat at 67 in the winter or off. Where's the payoff? Where is everyone else in this? I see bigger SUV's and cars now, (thanx Chrysler and Cadillac) I see Obama still not signing up for anything and Congress un-willing to do anything. I don't see any big ad push or info out there it's still all mumbo-jumbo and doubt and when there is word on page ten it's "Oh, it's happening faster than we thought". Yuk Yuk Yuk. But hey, there's still hope. Maybe aliens will beam done and fix it in the last minute.

The problem with "Energy Independence" is that to those in DC who who not accept AGW it doesn't mean wind/solar/etc. It means fracking, "drill-baby-drill" and even more mountaintop removal in the eastern United States.

The fossil fuel lobbists see to that.

Even the drill people see that we can not drill our way to independence no matter what, the evidence is overwhelming. So they use their slogans and stay clear of serious questions that they can not answer truthfully.

Answering questions truthfully?

Whether they do or don't one has to wonder if they're even willing to be truthful to themselves. You think this guy; knows truth? He believes we do not have to worry about climate change because God promised in the Bible not to destroy the world again after Noah’s flood. Noah's flood is truth for him.

And he's on the United States House Energy Subcommittee on Energy and Power.

ai-win....almost 35% of all Americans do not believe in evolution. That's almost the industrialized world highest. USA is a world of contradictions. My neighbor maintains that we have three distinct American groups: first 1/3 are non-evolutionist; second 1/3 are deniers and the last 1/3 are $$$ worshipers. I would call the third 1/3 group the Credulous and incorporate the $$$ worshipers in all groups. My neighbor maintains that the $$$ worshipers will gobble 90+% of the other groups by 2050. He may be right.

The only way something will drastically change the course is to hit people where they live. In the wallet. Massive gas tax. That's gas not diesel or bio-diesel. Mandate 50% of all new vehicles sold have to be diesel with blue technology and particulate filters. That will do away with the NOX and the particulates. No waiting for battery technology or electric refueling infrastructure or hydrogen or fairy dust. Force either Co2 sequestration or complete shutdown of all coal fired plants. Or go to Nuke power. Or ramp up damn building or increase wind drastically. New solar news is that panel efficiency just went way up. Sink huge amounts of money from the military budget and stop the NASA budget for now and take away the oil subsidies. Make these a priority and yell down anyone that stands in the way as being un-patriotic, like the right wing does. Pin a flag on it.
Simple. It would cut Co2 in half in no time. But no one is serious enough to do it. It'll be, gee you'll hurt the economy. What economy when we're up to our eyeballs in starving people and sea water. Look at the aftermath of Katrina. Just one itty bitty huricane. Destruction, death, refugees. "We can't afford to do anything about Climate Change". We can't afford not to.

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