Record High for Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Katie Auth | Nov 27, 2013

As climate negotiators, experts, and activists assembled in Warsaw, Poland, hoping to lay the groundwork for a global climate agreement in 2015, newly released data revealed continued growth in emissions of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) and other major greenhouse gases, as well as a shifting geographic distribution of emissions.

According to the Global Carbon Project, CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion and cement production reached 9.7 gigatons of carbon (GtC) in 2012, with a ±5 percent uncertainty range.1 This is the highest annual total to date—and it is 58 percent higher than emissions in 1990, the year often used as a benchmark for emissions trends.2 Coal (43 percent) and oil (33 percent) accounted for the majority of these emissions, with natural gas (18 percent), cement production (5 percent), and flaring (1 percent) making up the remainder.3 (See Figure 1.) The Global Carbon Project’s projection for 2013 is 9.9 ± 0.5 GtC, indicating growth of approximately 2 percent.4

Recent U.S. government and World Bank moves to limit international financing for new coal projects signal a desire to shift away from this particularly carbon-intensive resource.5 For now, however, coal remains a major driver of CO2 emissions. Although it made up 43 percent of global emissions in 2012, coal accounted for 54 percent of the increase that year, reflecting in part rising coal use in countries currently undergoing energy sector transitions.6 Coal-related emissions increased, for example, in Germany (4.2 percent) and Japan (5.6 percent)—both of which are phasing out nuclear power plants.7 Oil, gas, and cement accounted for 18 percent, 21 percent, and 6 percent of the global increase in 2012 respectively.8 (See Figure 2.) 

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