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CO2 emissions up 3% in 2011; 2012 heading to be 9th warmest year on record

CO2 emissions from fossil fuels burning and cement production increased by 3% in 2011, with a total of 9.5±0.5 PgC emitted to the atmosphere (34.7 billion tonnes of CO2), according to the 2012 Global Carbon Budget released by the Global Carbon Project. These emissions were the highest in human history and 54% higher than in 1990 (the Kyoto Protocol reference year). In 2011, coal burning was responsible for 43% of the total emissions, oil 34%, gas 18%, and cement 5%.

Separately, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) suggested that 2012 is on course to be the ninth warmest on record. Using information from January to October from three leading global temperature datasets, including HadCRUT4 compiled by the Met Office and the University of East Anglia, the WMO says the current 2012 global average temperature is 14.45 °C. This is 0.45 ± 0.10 °C above the 1961-1990 average.

Taking into account the range of uncertainty in observing global surface temperature, scientists from the Met Office suggest that 2012 is very likely to be between the 4th and 14th warmest year in a record dating back to 1850.

Emissions. The Global Carbon Project report projected that CO2 emissions from fossil fuels burning and cement production will increase by 2.6% in 2012, to a record high of 9.7±0.5 PgC (35.6 billion tonnes of CO2).

CO2 emissions from fossil fuel and other industrial processes are calculated by the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center of the US Oak Ridge National Laboratory. For the period 1959 to 2009 the calculations were based on United Nations Energy Statistics and cement data from the US Geological Survey, and for the years 2010 and 2011 the calculations were based on BP energy data.

Uncertainty of the global fossil fuel CO2 is estimated at ±5% (±1 sigma bounds based on the 10% at ±2 sigma bounds published by Andres et al. 2012). Uncertainty of emissions from individual countries can be larger.

The 2012 projection of 2.6% growth is based on the world GDP projection of 3.3% made by the International Monetary Fund and our estimate of improvements in the fossil intensity of the economy of 0.7%.

The biggest contributors to global emissions in 2011 were China (2.5 PgC, 28%), the United States (1.5 PgC, 6%), the European Union (EU27; 1.0 PgC, 11%), and India (0.6 PgC, 7%). Contributions to global emissions growth in 2011 were largest from China (0.226 PgC above 2010 levels, 9.9% growth) and India (0.043 PgC, 7.5%). Emissions from USA were down by 0.028 (-1.8%) and EU27 down by 0.029 PgC (-2.8%).

Developing nations accounted for 60% of all emissions in 2011. Average per capita emissions of developed countries (Annex B) were 3.0tC/person, several times larger than those of developing countries (non-Annex B) which were 0.9tC/person. China’s per capita emissions were 1.8 tC/person and are now close to the average of 2.0 in the EU-27. India’s per capita emissions were much below at 0.5 tC/person.

Current trajectories of fossil fuel emissions are tracking some of the most carbon intensive emission scenarios used in the Intergovermental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC). The current trajectory is tracking the Representative Concentration Pathway 8.5 (of the latest family of IPCC scenarios) that takes the planet to about 4°C to 6.1°C above pre-industrial times by 2100.

Temperature. Due to a La Niña through the first part of the year, 2012 is shaping up to be cooler than the average for the past decade, according to the University of East Anglia.

HadCRUT4 includes up-to-date data available from land stations, new data from higher-latitude stations giving better coverage of Arctic climate, and improved and more extensive sea surface temperature data.

Although the first decade of the 21st century was the warmest on record, warming has not been as rapid since 2000 as over the longer period since the 1970s. This variability in global temperatures is not unusual, with several periods lasting a decade or more with little or no warming since the instrumental record began. We are investigating why the temperature rise at the surface has slowed in recent years, including how ocean heat content changes and the effects of aerosols from atmospheric pollution may have influenced global climate.

—Dr. Peter Stott, head of Climate Monitoring and Attribution at the Met Office



Humanity will learn the law of cause and effect the hard way.

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