Planet-warming carbon dioxide emissions hit a record high of 35 billion tonnes in 2012 and are poised to grow by another billion tonnes this year, according to a new study.
Global CO2 emissions were 2.2% higher than in 2011 and are expected to soar by another 2.1% this year, according to the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research in Oslo (Cicero).
“The devastating effects of climate change are already being felt around the world. Governments must stop inventing excuses and take urgent action to avoid a catastrophe,” said Andy Atkins, the executive director of Friends of the Earth, a green pressure group.
The new study, published as world leaders gather in Warsaw for UN-sponsored international climate change talks, also found that Germany’s CO2 emissions increased by 1.8% in 2012, even as pollution in the EU bloc as a whole fell by 1.3%.
The report's authors attribute that trend to a collapse of the EU's carbon price, Germany’s abandonment of nuclear power, and a 4.2% growth in coal use caused by cheap US imports.
The Oslo-based Cicero research centre’s assessment was undertaken by 49 authors in 10 different countries, under the aegis of the Global Carbon Project. The results were more pessimistic than a similar paper released earlier this month by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL) and the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC).
That study also registered a record surge in carbon dioxide emissions – to 34.5 billion tonnes – but saw a slowdown in the rate of increase to 1.1%, half the level found by the Cicero research.
A PBL statement described this slowdown as “remarkable” when the world’s economy grew by 3.5% at the same time.
"It is bad news if the different research institutes don't agree with the data and statistics," the Green MEP Bas Eickhout told EURACTIV, speaking from Warsaw. "The last thing we need now is a fight between the institutions about what's happening with emissions. Those parties that don't want to do anything will use it [as an excuse] to say the science is not clear."
Even so, "if Cicero is right, it is very worrying," he conceded.
Glen Peters, a senior research fellow at Cicero, said that that his institute had used different land use change modelling from PBL. But the difference in CO2 measurements was “primarily because they used some different estimates of China’s emissions,” he said.
“We found they were growing by 5.9% a year and they had about 3% a year,” he continued, “but because the country is so big, a few percentage points can make a big difference.”
The Cicero report found that China’s emissions were falling – from an average 7.9% over the last ten years – but that they were still responsible for 70% of the growth in global CO2 output.
Similarly, the PBL study said that China and the emerging economies now accounted for 48% of the world’s emissions, putting wind in the sails of arguments by the US, EU and others for such countries to take on additional emissions-cutting responsibilities in a new binding international treaty.
“All countries must be ready to present bold pledges before the summit of world leaders on climate change called by UNSG [UN secretary-general] Ban Ki-moon next September," the EU’s climate action commissioner, Connie Hedegaard, said earlier this month.
The five emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, now account for 30% of the world’s GDP according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). India’s emissions also increased by 7.7% last year, the Cicero study found, with coal use growing at a breakneck 10.2% annually.
By contrast, coal-dependent Poland reduced its emissions by 3.1% last year, the paper said.
But developing countries counter that the effect of historic carbon pollution should be taken into account when calculating how much more can be emitted – and by who.
“The UK and other developed nations who have done most to cause this crisis must now show bold international leadership to tackle it,” Atkins said.
Speaking to EURACTIV shortly before the UN Warsaw summit, Pa Ousman Jarju, the chairman of the Least Developed Countries group at the UN climate change negotiations, echoed that sentiment, but with a message tailored for European ears.
“The EU’s laggards should not hold back its front runners,” he said. “The UK, Sweden and Denmark need to push and move things forward.”
Asked how best they could do so, he replied: “The EU should show their leadership by making concrete pledges to provide money to the Green Climate Fund.”
Providing revenues for the fund, which is planned to disburse $100 billion a year by 2020, is one of several thorny issues delegates are haggling over as the planet’s carbon emissions continue to rise.
Eickhout said that the talks were "cumbersome, slow and getting more difficult by the day."