Thursday, May 31, 2012

World CO2 Emissions Continue to Rise

The International Energy Agency, IEA, has released its preliminary 2011 estimates of world CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion. World CO2 emissions rose by 1 billion metric tons, a 3.2 % increase over last year to reach 31.6 billion metric tons (34.83 billion tons). The IEA based in Paris was established in November 1974 in response to the global oil crisis created by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) oil embargo. Its primary mandate was to promote energy security amongst its member countries. Over the years the mission has evolved to include holding global warming at 2°C by providing policy recommendations for ways to ensure reliable, clean energy for its 28 member countries (which includes the United States).

In 2011 the top four world generators of CO2 emission from fossil fuels were in descending order China, the United States, the European Union and India who edged out Russia to take the number four slot. China increased their emissions the most. China contributed almost three quarters of the global increase, with its emissions rising by 720 million metric tons, or 9.3% to 8.46 billion metric tons of CO2, primarily due to higher coal consumption. India’s emissions rose by 140 million metric tons or 8.7% to 1.75 billion metric tons. CO2 emissions in the United States in 2011 fell by 92 million metric tons of CO2, or 1.7% to an estimated 5.32 billion metric tons. This reduction was primarily due to EPA regulations and increased availability of natural gas from shale deposits the cause the switching from coal to natural gas for electric power generation and helped by a mild winter in most of the United States, which reduced the demand for space heating. U.S. emissions have now fallen by 430 million metric tons or 7.7% since 2006, the largest reduction of all countries or regions. Unfortunately, this decrease has been made practically meaningless by the unrelenting growth in China and India.

Other highlights from the report were the European Union increased their CO2 emissions from fossil fuel by 69 million metric tons to approximately 3.56 billion metric tons. Japan’s CO2 emissions increased by 28 million metric tons, or 2.4% to approximately 1.19 billion metric tons, as a result of a substantial increase in the use of fossil fuels in power generation post-Fukushima tsunami when the three of the six Fukushima Daiichi nuclear  reactors  in operation at the time suffered melt downs. Now Germany, Belgium, and Switzerland have developed plans to phase out their nuclear reactors in the next decade in response to the damage to the nuclear reactors that occurred in the Japanese tsunami. So, CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion is likely to increase in those countries. Russia and Canada remained fairly stable from the previous year, though Russia reports fewer data inputs than most developed countries so estimates are not as easily made.

The IEA tracks not only energy data and carbon dioxide releases but also investment in carbon control technologies and progress along various strategies to limit global temperature rise by controlling CO2 emissions from fossil fuel. IEA also makes progress reports on converting to clean energy and implementing carbon dioxide controls worldwide geared to preventing global temperatures from increasing more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels, the so called 450 Scenario which limits global warming by limiting concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to around 450 parts per million of CO2. Unfortunately,  we’re pretty much out of time since the 450 Scenario calls for CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuel to peak at 32.6 billion metric tons of CO2 emissions annually just 1 billion metric tons above current levels and the amount the world emissions increased this past year.

The IEA still believes that it is possible to prevent the earth’s temperature from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius if “timely and significant government policy action is taken, and a range of clean energy technologies are developed and deployed globally.” The government action required is spending more money, much more money. The money is to be spent for the development and implementation of clean technologies to reduce Energy related CO2 emissions by over 5 billion metric tons before 2020 and continue to fall thereafter to less than half of the 2009 level while world population continues to grow. The IEA estimates that achieving these carbon reductions would cost $5 trillion by 2020.  The world does not appear to have the financial capacity or will for these actions on top of all the other needs of nations.

The worldwide level of CO2 emissions is higher than the worst-case scenario outlined by climate experts just five years ago, but fortunately temperatures have not (yet) risen as projected by the climate models.  The relationship of climate change to worldwide CO2 levels may not be the one previously assumed as research and modeling of the climate at Oregon State University predict a lower probability of imminent extreme climatic change than previously thought. The earth is going to be their laboratory. In the meantime we really need to worry about access to clean water and safe human sanitation and animal waste disposal.

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