Global carbon dioxide emissions reach new record high

3. Dezember 2012
New meta-analysis results indicate that 2-degree target is unlikely to be met. - The international Global Carbon Project consortium has announced that global carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere will reach a record high of 35.6 billion tons in 2012. The main reasons for the rise is the increase in carbon emissions caused by the combustion of fossil fuels. Scientists estimate that emissions from this source have increased by 2.6 percent compared to the previous year. The emissions thus exceed 1990 levels by almost 60 percent; 1990 is the base year for the Kyoto Protocol. The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached a new high in 2011 when levels reached 391 parts per million.

Based on a large number of carbon dioxide measurements and model calculations conducted by other scientists, the members of the Global Carbon Project have pinpointed the countries responsible for emitting the largest quantities of greenhouse gases in recent years. In 2011, China accounted for 28 percent of all global emissions, making it the largest emitter in the world. China was followed by the USA (16 percent), the European Union (11 percent) and India (7 percent). In 2011, emissions by China and India increased by 9.9 percent and 7.5 percent respectively. In contrast, the USA reduced its CO2 emissions by 1.8 percent and the European Union even managed a reduction of 2.8 percent. According to this study, Germany’s emissions have fallen by an average of 1 percent per year since 2000. However, on a global scale, a total of 35.6 billion tons of carbon dioxide – representing a new all-time high – have entered the atmosphere this year.

The CO2 emission rates used by the Global Carbon Project are based, for the most part, on extrapolations from the quantities of fossil fuels used in the individual countries to produce energy. In global terms, the rates have increased by at least 2 percent per year since 1985. This brings the rates to the upper limit of any emission scenario ever projected by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. “This increase in emission rates hampers the efforts of international climate meetings to limit human-made climate change,” says Sönke Zaehle from the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry in Jena, which contributed data to this study.

The further increase in emissions in 2012 reinforces the discrepancy between the actual emission rates and those required to keep global warming below the international target of 2°C. The increase in CO2 emissions means that a new record has also been set in the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere: carbon dioxide levels have now reached 391 parts per million. “If the current trend continues, we will be significantly beyond any scenarios that allow for climate change stabilisation in the 21st century,” says Prof. Martin Heimann, Director at the Jena-based Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry, commenting on the results.

Some European countries were able to reduce their emissions by up to 5 percent due to a greater reliance on energy sources that produce low levels of CO2: “Similar changes in other countries could mean the beginning of a worldwide, low-cost mitigation strategy,” says Glen Peters, co-author of the study and researcher at the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research in Oslo, Norway. According to the authors of the study, however, additional and stronger measures are imperative if the 2°C target is to be reached.

“The mitigation challenge to stay below two degrees” by G.P. Peters, R.M. Andrew, T. Boden, J.G. Canadell, P. Ciais, C. Le Quéré, G. Marland, M.R. Raupach, C. Wilson is published online by Nature Climate Change,
DOI:10.1038/nclimate1783. A pdf can be requested from

Full details of the methods and data used are presented for discussion in: “The Global Carbon Budget 1959–2011” by C. Le Quéré, R. J. Andres, T. Boden, T. Conway, R. A. Houghton, J. I. House, G. Marland, G. P. Peters, G. van der Werf, A. Ahlström, R. M. Andrew, L. Bopp, J. G. Canadell, P. Ciais, S. C. Doney, C. Enright, P. Friedlingstein, C. Huntingford, A. K. Jain, C. Jourdain, E. Kato, R. Keeling, K. Klein Goldewijk, S. Levis, P. Levy, M. Lomas, B. Poulter, M. Raupach, J. Schwinger, S. Sitch, B. D. Stocker, N. Viovy, S. Zaehle and N. Zeng, Earth System Science Data Discussions, 5, 1107–1157, doi:10.5194/essdd-5-1107-2012, (in review).
DOI: 10.5194/essdd-5-1107-2012. The paper and data are freely available.

Dr. Sönke Zaehle
Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry
P.O. Box 60 01 64, D-07701 Jena, Germany
phone: +
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Prof. Corinne le Quéré
University of East Anglia
Norwich NR4 7TJ, U.K.
Phone: +44 (0)1603 592840 / +44 (0)789 0556096
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