In 2012, total world emissions of CO2 increased by 1.4% (corrected for leap year it was 1.1%) over 2011, to reach a total of 34.5 billion tonnes of CO2. In 2012 the top five world generators of CO2 emission from fossil fuels were (once again) in descending order China, the United States, the European Union, India and the Russian Federation.
The rate of increase in CO2 emissions has slowed. The average annual increase in world CO2 emissions was 2.9% per year since 2000. This growth was driven primarily by the growth in China, India and other developing countries as those economies emerged. India’s GDP growth at around 4% in 2012 was the lowest in a decade. India’s CO2 emissions in 2012 continued to increase by 6.8% to about 2.0 billion tonnes. China with the largest population is the largest CO2 emitter on earth. They increased CO2 emissions by 3% in 2012, compared to an average rate of increase in CO2 emissions of around 10% per year during the last decade.
In the United States CO2 emissions decreased by 4% in 2012. The United States which represents 16% of total world emissions has decreased total CO2 emissions each year since 2005. In 2012, with GDP (gross domestic product) growth of 2%, their CO2 emissions decreased by 4%, mainly because of a fuel shift from coal to gas in the power generation. Natural gas produces about half the CO2 as coal for the same amount of electricity. In recent years, the United States expanded shale gas fracturing and has now become the largest natural gas producer in the world.
In the European Union CO2 emissions decreased 1.6% in 2012. The European Union, as a whole, was in a recession in 2012. The European Union’s GDP declined by 0.3%, compared to 2011, and CO2 emissions declined by 1.3%. The European Union reported a decrease in consumption of oil and gas, by 4% and 2% respectively, a decrease in freight transported of 4%, and a decrease of 2% in total emissions from power generation and manufacturing installations. However, the use of coal for power generation increased in the European Union in 2012. Relative pricing for coal and gas and a decrease in the use of nuclear energy to generate power in the aftermath of the Fukushima accident are responsible for the increase in coal use in other parts of the world.
Renewable energy power generation has increased worldwide. The use of hydropower has accelerated and its output increased by 4.3%, between 2011 and 2012. The share of the ‘new’ renewable energy from solar, wind and biofuel also increased to 2.4% in 2012. In 2012 there appeared to be a ‘decoupling’ of the increase in CO2 emissions from global GDP growth. This may be an anomaly or indicate a shift towards less fossil-fuel intensive activities or fuel switch to less CO2 intense fuels, more use of renewable energy and increased energy saving.
Nonetheless, the worldwide level of CO2 emissions is higher than the worst-case scenario outlined by climate experts just six 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 continues and time lags and other factors are studied and climate prediction models are modified to reflect ongoing research. The developed world no longer drives or controls CO2 emissions, and there is little we can do to change the future. What is going to happen will happen. Though we should still strive to reduce our personal energy use and efficiency.