In July 2012, the Joint Research Centre (JRC) and the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL) launched their annual report 'Trends in global CO2 emissions', which found that global emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) reached an all-time high of almost 34 billion tonnes in 2011. In China, average emissions of CO2 increased by 9% to 7.2 tonnes per capita, while in the European Union, they dropped by 3% to 7.5 tonnes per capita. At 17.3 tonnes per capita, the United States are still among the greatest emitters of CO2.
Recent results from the JRC’s Emission Database for Global Atmospheric Research (EDGAR) and statistics on energy use, gas flaring and cement production, show that anthropogenic global emissions of CO2 reached an all-time high of nearly 34 billion tonnes in 2011.
The top emitters in 2011 were China (29%), the United States (16%), the European Union (11%), India (6%) the Russian Federation (5%) and Japan (4%).
CO2 per capita emissions from fossil fuel use and cement production from the top 5 emitting regions.
The Annex I range given by the two dashed lines demarcates the highest (Australia)
and lowest (France) per capita emissions from major industrialised countries
An increasing world population is one of the drivers of increasing CO2 emissions. The global average emissions per person is estimated to be 4.9 tCO2 per capita, yet the top three total emitters also had the highest per capita emissions: China (7.2 tCO2 /cap); the US (17.3 tCO2 /cap) and the European Union (7.5 tCO2/cap). By comparison, India emitted only 1.6 tCO2 /cap.
In 1992, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was established with the objective of identifying what could be done to limit climate change and cope with the unavoidable environmental impacts. The 1997 Kyoto Protocol to the Convention imposed legally binding emissions targets and annual reporting obligations on industrialised (Annex I) countries, while the non-Annex I (developing) countries were under no such obligation. EDGAR provides an invaluable data source for independent estimates of emissions. It covers all countries of the world, consistently applying the same technology-based methodology to provide estimates of greenhouse gas emission time-series for 1970-2008. It incorporates activity data from international statistics and, where possible, emission factors as recommended by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the European Environment European Environment Agency (EEA) and the Cooperative programme for monitoring and evaluation of the long-range transmission of air pollutants in Europe EMEP/EEA.
Whereas in the past century the Annex I countries were the predominant emitters of greenhouse gases, estimates from EDGAR show that the total GHG emissions of non-Annex I countries are prevalent in the 21st Century, especially since China’s per capita emissions have reached Annex 1 country levels in 2011. Should these trends continue, non-Annex 1 countries will need to play an increasingly active role in the future to limit their emissions and avoid further climate change.
Since 2000, an estimated cumulative total of 420 billion tonnes CO2 has been emitted due to human activities (including deforestation). Meinshausen et al. (2009) argued that in order to achieve a 75% probability of limiting the long-term average global temperature rise to 2°C above pre-industrial levels (the target adopted by the UNFCCC in Copenhagen in 2009), cumulative emissions in the 2000–2050 period should not exceed 1,000 to 1,500 billion tonnes CO2. Extrapolating the current global annual CO2 emission trends, which are increasingly determined by contributions from emerging economies, the cumulative emissions will already surpass this total by 2025.
Given that about three quarters of these CO2 emissions stem from fossil fuel combustion, action is still needed in the form of energy savings, fuel efficiency and a shift towards established low-carbon energy technologies such as hydropower and to modern renewable energies such as solar, wind or biofuels. However, such a shift will take time, perhaps too long to really cap emissions. Even though the global energy share of solar and wind energy and biofuels quadrupled over the past two decades, it only amounted to about 2% in 2011. Nevertheless, without these modern renewables, another approximately 0.8 billion tonnes of CO2 would have been emitted to the atmosphere in 2011, if the energy produced by the renewables had been generated using the mixture of coal, oil or gas currently used in the power and transport sectors.