See the Tabbed Pages for links to video tutorials, and a linked list of post titles grouped by topic.

This blog is expressly directed to readers who do not have strong training or backgrounds in science, with the intent of helping them grasp the underpinnings of this important issue. I'm going to present an ongoing series of posts that will develop various aspects of the science of global warming, its causes and possible methods for minimizing its advance and overcoming at least partially its detrimental effects.

Each post will begin with a capsule summary. It will then proceed with captioned sections to amplify and justify the statements and conclusions of the summary. I'll present images and tables where helpful to develop a point, since "a picture is worth a thousand words".

Monday, November 21, 2011

Worldwide Emissions of CO2: Background for the Durban Conference

Summary.  Energy use by developing countries of the world increased dramatically between 1972 and 2008.  During this period energy use by the developed countries increased at a far lower rate. 

The U. S. Energy Information Agency (EIA) and the International Energy Agency (IEA), in recent reports, project energy use by developing countries to continue to grow at very high rates through 2035, while use by the developed countries is projected to grow much more weakly, in the absence of new climate policies to limit energy use.  In an IEA scenario intended to keep atmospheric CO2 concentration below 450 parts per million, most CO2 emission is committed due to facilities already in service; only the few facilities to be placed in service are available to mitigate CO2 emission.  The IEA warns that effective policies to limit energy use and CO2 emission should be operating by 2017 in order to avoid emergency expenditures on a much larger scale for infrastructure at a later date.

At the time of this writing, about 1 week before the 2011 U. N. Durban conference on climate change, a news report states that major rich countries of the world have determined that a new climate agreement cannot be negotiated and implemented any sooner than about 2020.

Rich nations delay climate agreement.  On Nov. 20, 2011, the Guardian (UK) published a report (accessed Nov. 21, 2011) that the richest countries of the world have abandoned the goal of negotiating a climate change treaty that would have gone into effect in the present decade.   (This news item appeared just as this writer was completing his draft of this post.)  This news emerges just one week before the worldwide UNFCCC meeting is scheduled to begin in Durban, South Africa.  The report states that the UK, European Union, Japan, U.S. and other rich nations, with the acceptance of the UN, all agree to delay a treaty.  The new timeline envisions a treaty finalized by 2016, entering into force in 2020.  This delay represents a serious setback for mitigation efforts, having serious effects, or worse, on vulnerable regions and populations across the globe.

Bloomberg BusinessWeek reports that the U. S. will require stringent, reciprocal terms for all emitters including China for any treaty taking effect after 2020.  One objective at the Durban conference will be to extend the Kyoto Protocol, which does not include the U. S. or China, to 2020.  Another goal is to proceed to implement (nonbinding) commitments made last year at the Cancun conference.

Introduction. Climate scientists the world over (working under the United Nations as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)) have reached a consensus that the long-term average of the temperature of the earth has increased since the start of the industrial revolution due to man-made emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases. The IPCC further predicts that the earth’s average temperature will continue to increase in this century, leading to a variety of serious, potentially harmful, extreme weather and climate events.

Agreements reached at the 2010 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meeting in Cancun, Mexico, drew from the IPCC.  The agreements acknowledged that “climate change represents an urgent and potentially irreversible threat to human societies and the planet, and thus [must] be urgently addressed by all [194] Parties [to the UNFCCC]”, and that the parties must strive to constrain the average global rise in temperature to 2ºC (3.6ºF) or less.

The previous post on this blog summarized the present status of actions taken since the conclusion of the Cancun conference, and outlined some outstanding policy issues.  In this post we expand on prior worldwide greenhouse gas emissions history, and examine expected future emissions in considerable detail.  This background establishes the major concerns affecting negotiations on the policies directed toward mitigation of the increased global average temperature.

Selected historical data from the International Energy Agency (IEA). The following graphic illustrates historical data for fuel-derived energy in Asia, excluding China but including India, from 1972 to 2008.  The overall growth over this period was about 340%.

Mtoe: million tonnes of oil equivalent.  From bottom to top the bands are: purple, coal and peat; blue, oil; green, gas; yellow, nuclear energy; navy blue, hydroelectric energy; orange, combined renewables and waste fill fuels; and red, combined geothermal, solar and wind energy.

The corresponding graphic for China is shown below.  Two features distinguish 

                         Source: IEA

this diagram from the one above for Asia excluding China.  First, the vertical scales show that China consumes much more energy than all the rest of Asia.  Second, there is a distinct upward break in China’s energy usage at about 2001, which originates entirely from coal.  China vastly expanded its coal-based electricity generating capacity over the last decade, with about 80% of its electricity generated from coal-fired plants.  In the 29 years from 1972 to 2001, energy supply increased about 180%, while in the short period from 2001 to 2008 the energy use grew steeply, by about 90%.

In contrast to the rapidly developing countries of Asia, the total energy supply for the developed countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD; includes, for example, the U. S., Europe, Japan and Australia) grew much more slowly, as seen in the graphic below. 

                                    Source: IEA;

In these countries the principal fuel is oil rather than coal.  The increase over the entire period shown is about 50%.  The energy supplied is much larger than the combined supply for all of Asia in the first two graphics.

Projected energy use and emission of CO2. 

The U. S. Energy Information Agency (EIA) issued its report, International Energy Outlook 2011  (designated IEO 2011 here), on Sept. 19, 2011.  The report presents historical worldwide energy usage data to 2008 and forecasts worldwide energy usage from 2008 through 2035.  The projections in the graphics below use the IEO 2011 Reference case scenario, which assumes that no new national or international policies govern energy use beyond those in place in 2011.

The first graphic illustrates historical (up to 2008) and projected (after 2008) total energy consumption worldwide, showing yearly consumption for OECD and non-OECD countries of the world.  Two factors are important in this and the next following graphic.  First, since most energy will continue to be derived from

Historical (1990 to 2008) and projected (2015-2035) annual worldwide consumption of energy, using the Reference scenario.  Btu, British thermal unit (the heat required to increase the temperature of 1 pound of water by 1ºF). Source: EIA;

fossil fuels during the projected period, the sharp rise in total worldwide energy use each year translates to a corresponding increase in annual emission of CO2.  Second, since both of these graphics present data for annual energy use, they likewise represent the corresponding annual rate of emission of CO2. Energy use by the non-OECD countries surpassed that of the OECD countries at about 2006.  The projected growth in energy use by the non-OECD (developing) countries, including China and India, is much higher, about 90% from 2008 to 2035, than the corresponding growth by the OECD (developed) countries, about 18%.

A complementary view of the same information is shown in the bar graph below.  As stated in the caption, China and India, which are included

Historical (1990 to 2008) and projected (2015-2035) annual worldwide energy consumption for: pale green, non-OECD (developing) countries of Asia; dark green, other non-OECD (developing) countries; blue, OECD (developed) countries, for the years shown.

in the pale green bars for non-OECD Asia, are responsible for fully half of the increase in the world’s energy use. Non-OECD Asian countries are projected to increase their energy use by about 110% between 2008 and 2035, in the Reference case.  The use of energy by the other non-OECD countries grows slightly less strongly over this time, and the OECD countries’ use of energy grows by only 10%.

EIA projects that in 2035 under the Reference Scenario, 80% of the world’s energy demand remains filled by fossil fuels.  Renewable sources of energy grow by 2.8% per year, fulfilling about 15% of energy demand by 2035.  Thus, as fuel use increases between 2008 and 2035, the corresponding annual rate of emission of the greenhouse gas CO2 likewise increases, under the Reference scenario.  This is broken down in the graphic below.

Annual emissions of CO2 historically up to 2008, and projected for decadic years between 2015 and 2035, in billions of metric tons of CO2 released. Non-OECD Asiatic countries (developing countries including China and India; pale green), non-Asiatic, non-OECD countries (other developing countries; dark green), and OECD countries (developed countries; blue).

As the caption shows, annual CO2 emissions for Asian developing countries increase by about 75% between 2008 and 2035.  The annual rates for the other two categories increase much more slowly.

In the Reference scenario annual emissions of CO2 are projected to grow drastically between 2008 and 2035.  Each year’s emissions are added to the atmospheric CO2 content already present.  Thus each succeeding year will see the addition of larger and larger amounts of CO2 to the atmosphere, worsening the increase in the long-term global average temperature we are already experiencing.

The International Energy Agency published its World Energy Outlook 2011 (WEO 2011) on Nov. 9, 2011.  It includes projections based on three scenarios.  The Current Policy Scenario (CPS) assumes no additional emissions policies implemented beyond those already in place in 2011.  This inaction is projected to lead to an increase in long-term global average temperature of 6ºC (10.8ºF) by 2035.  The intermediate New Policies Scenario includes policies intended to reduce emissions, but not by enough to stabilize atmospheric CO2 levels. It is projected to lead to an increase in long-term global average temperature of 3.5ºC (6.3ºF).  The 450 Policy Scenario (450 PS) implements strict controls on new emissions that are intended to stabilize the atmospheric CO2 concentration at 450 parts per million; this is the level deemed adequate to keep the increase in long-term global average temperature within 2ºC (3.6ºF) above the pre-industrial level.

The IEA graphic below compares projections of Total Primary Energy Sources by global regions for two scenarios, CPS and 450 PS. It is seen that, compared to

Comparison of total world energy use under the CPS and the 450 PS. Historical data for 1990 and 2008, and projected results under the two policies for 2015, 2020, 2025 and 2035.  Blue: OECD+ (OECD countries plus others in the European Union; developed countries); Green: OME, other major economies (Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Russian Federation and Middle East; developing countries); Purple: OC, other countries(world excluding OECD+ and OME countries; developing countries); Orange: Intl. bunkers, international air and marine transportation.
Source: IEA, 2011 Key World Energy Statistics;

current policies, adopting the stringent 450 Policy Scenario results in an overall projected decrease of 22% in total energy needed by 2035.  The largest reduction in energy use is from the large economies of the developing world (OME), about 23%; followed by reductions in energy use by other developing countries (OC), about 17%, and reductions by OECD+ (developed countries) of about 13%.

The IEA warned in WEO 2011, according to its press release, that the world will enter “an insecure, inefficient and high-carbon energy system” unless it implements strong new policies to lower future emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases.  The report points out that there is still time to act, but the time for implementing new policies is short.  Recent developments that signal  this urgency include the Fukushima nuclear accident which has deflated enthusiasm for nuclear energy, turmoil in the Middle East which creates instability in oil supplies and costs, and a strong increase in energy demand in 2010 which led to record high emissions of CO2.

Fatih Birol, IEA’s Chief Economist, points out that as time passes without significant action to mitigate emissions, the world is becoming “locked in” to a high-carbon energy infrastructure.  Up to the point of changing policy, all preexisting energy-producing and –consuming infrastructure commits the world to continuing its carbon-inefficient energy economy.  This is illustrated in the following graphic, considering that 2010 is the year of commitment.  

Lock-in of annual CO2 emissions from energy-producing and energy-consuming physical installations as of 2010, shown in the various SOLID colors.  Projected additional annual emissions from facilities newly installed after 2010, allowable under the 450 Policy Scenario, are shown in the HATCHED GREEN area at the top of the diagram.
Source: IEA, World Energy Outlook 2011;

This notion had been described earlier in a publication by Davis and coworkers in 2010, reported in an earlier post on this blog.  They pointed out that these physical installations have long service lifetimes, and that they continue to emit CO2 annually according to their originally designed (inefficient) operating specifications.

In the graphic above emissions from committed infrastructure are projected to decrease year by year as the various facilities age and are removed from service.  Significantly, the graphic illustrates the maneuvering leeway in annual CO2 emissions that are consistent with the 450 Policy Scenario, which is intended to ensure that the long-term average increase in global temperature is constrained to 2ºC (3.6ºF).  The IEA press release states

“Four-fifths of the total energy-related CO2 emissions permitted to 2035 in the 450 Scenario are already locked-in by existing capital stock…. Without further action by 2017, the energy-related infrastructure then in place would generate all the CO2 emissions allowed in the 450 Scenario up to 2035. Delaying action is a false economy: for every $1 of investment in cleaner technology that is avoided in the power sector before 2020, an additional $4.30 would need to be spent after 2020 to compensate for the increased emissions.”

The leeway emissions are the only portions of the world’s energy economy available for manipulation to reduce overall CO2 emissions.  


Use of fossil fuels accelerated radically among developing nations such as China and India between 1972 and 2008, while use by developed nations, such as those in the OECD, rose much more slowly. 

In the absence of any change from current climate policies, the U. S. EIA envisions major increases in the use of fossil fuels among non-OECD nations, with more gradual increases among OECD countries, by 2035.  China and India are expected to be responsible for about half of the increase in energy use worldwide.  This results in major increases in emission of CO2.  Developing countries in Asia, including China and India, would account for 75% of the increased emission of CO2.

Generally similar conclusions are reached by the IEA.  Their 450 Policy Scenario, if implemented now, would lead to a decrease in annual energy usage by about 22% by 2035, referenced to the Current Policy Scenario.

The IEA warns that, in view of the large emissions burden imposed by existing energy infrastructure, a policy reflecting the objectives of the 450 Policy Scenario has to be agreed to by the world’s nations, and be implemented by 2017 in order to avoid much higher infrastructure expenditures in an emergency environment at a later time.

This writer would have concluded this post by urging the world’s nations to strive to finalize a climate agreement at the upcoming UNFCCC in Durban at the earliest opportunity.  However, the news report from the Guardian that many developed countries have delayed reaching such an agreement now precludes such a statement.  It is unfortunate that the nations of the world cannot come together to act in their own interests, and the interests of all peoples of the world, to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

© 2011 Henry Auer

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Annual U. N. Climate Change Conference in Durban, South Africa

Summary.  The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change will convene its next conference at Durban, South Africa from November 28 to December 9, 2011.  The conference will consider topics contained in the Cancun Agreements from last year’s meeting.  These include mitigation of global warming, adaptation to harmful effects arising from global warming, reducing emissions by slowing or reversing deforestation, codifying the trustworthiness of emissions data, and establishing funding to help developing countries implement mitigation and adaptation measures.

It is predicted that the world will continue to emit increasing amounts of carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas, by burning fossil fuels, in the absence of policies that limit these emissions.  Increased atmospheric carbon dioxide will exacerbate global warming and its harmful effects.  Most of the increasing emissions rate originates from developing, rather than from developed, countries.  Yet major emitters among developing countries have not put forward policies to limit the absolute amount of their emissions.  U. S. Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern has recognized this problem as a legacy approach from two decades ago that is no longer valid today. 

The Durban Conference should address the distinction in predicted emissions rate between developed and developing nations.  It should make progress toward implementing a worldwide program directed toward limiting greenhouse gas emissions by all nations of the world.

Introduction.  The world’s environmental and political leaders will convene the 17th conference under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) from November 28 to December 9, 2011 in Durban, South Africa. 194 parties (nations and the region of the European Union) are included in the UNFCCC.  The 16th conference gathered one year ago in Cancun, Mexico to negotiate a framework to lower man-made emissions of greenhouse gases and to constrain the resulting global average temperature rise to less than 2 deg C (3.6 deg F) above the level that prevailed before the industrial revolution began. 

The Cancun conference addressed the following issues:
  • efforts at mitigation of the increasing emission of greenhouse gases around the world (i.e., reducing the rate of such emissions);
  • efforts at adaptation to the adverse effects, past and future, of global warming;
  • reduction of emissions coming from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries;
  • assuring transparency of knowledge and information concerning efforts at mitigation and adaptation by establishing standards for measuring and  reporting data, and verification of results; and
  • establishing an international fund to support mitigation and adaptation efforts in developing and least developed countries.
The Cancun Agreements were the final product (text and press release; see the Cancun meeting  web site for additional documents) of the conference, and were approved by all the parties except one.  As such, they reflect affirmative commitments by all the parties going forward to objectives and concrete steps to be taken.

A signal feature of the Agreements is the explicit acknowledgement by all the participants that “climate change represents an urgent and potentially irreversible threat to human societies and the planet, and thus requires to be urgently addressed by all Parties”, and that they must strive to constrain the average global rise in temperature to 2º C (3.6º F) or less.  It states that “deep cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions are required according to [climate] science”, as documented in the Fourth Assessment Report of the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change” (IPCC), which was issued in 2007.  It thus established an upper limit for the average global temperature in order to prevent severe consequences from afflicting the planet. 

Commitments under the Cancun Agreements.  The following are among the commitments made in the Agreements.

Mitigation.  The developed, or already industrialized, countries (such as the U. S., Europe, and others) were encouraged to develop more ambitious targets for reducing man-made greenhouse gas emissions as recommended by the IPCC.  They are to report their inventories of greenhouse gas emissions every year, and to report on progress toward reducing emissions, as well as on financing and adaptation activities, every two years.

In order to promote and enable mitigation efforts by developing countries (such as China, India and others), they are to receive financial and technological support from the developed countries, while recognizing their objectives of economic development and reduction of poverty among their populations.  Developing countries are to publish reports on their progress toward reducing emissions every two years. 

Reduction of emissions due to deforestation and forest degradation (REDD) is a major undertaking in the Cancun Agreements.  Reversing deforestation and new planting of trees for restoring forests is a significant feature of the Agreements.

Adaptation.  Among other measures, the Agreements establish a Cancun Adaptation Framework, an organization that will oversee both the substance and the financing of projects that help least developed countries adapt to the adverse effects of global warming.   These include sea level rise, increasing temperatures, and ocean acidification, among others.

Transparency.  A major impediment to progress in addressing global warming at the level of a global conference had been a perceived or suspected lack of credibility when a particular nation reports its emissions, and its mitigation and adaptation activities.  The Cancun Agreements established formal mechanisms for assuring transparency in the measurement, reporting, and verification of activities in these areas.

Financing.  The Cancun Agreements established objectives for financing adaptation and mitigation efforts among poorer nations of the world.  A fast start financing round from industrialized countries was to achieve a committed level of $30 billion by 2012.  It further establishes a long-term goal of providing $100 billion/yr by 2020. 

Actions by Parties Since the Cancun Conference

Developed countries submitted emission reduction targets to the UNFCCC, which reported them in June 2011.  Goals from a selection of developed countries/regions for the year 2020 are included in the following table.

Reference year
Reduction goal, %
Contingent on agreement by world’s nations to limit CO2 to 450 ppm; otherwise lower goals undertaken unilaterally
Contingent on U. S. passing climate change legislation
European Union
Reaffirmed commitment to limit global warming to 2ºC.  Confirmed effort to reduce emissions by 80-95% by 2050.
Premised on international agreement for reduction by all major economies.
Russian Federation
Conditioned on all major emitters honoring their emissions obligations, and allowance for effects of domestic forests.
U. S.
Assumes passage of climate legislation.  Assumes other developed, and advanced developing countries, submit mitigation actions.


Developing countries undertook to provide an assessment of help, finances and technologies that the developed countries would provide in order to help them to break from “business as usual” (current economic activities in the absence of climate change plans), and permit progress in achieving reductions in the rates of emissions.  Developing countries also undertook to put in place rigorous emissions measuring, reporting and verification practices, also to be transmitted to the UNFCCC.

Developing countries, on a voluntary basis, submitted “nationally appropriate mitigation actions” planned for coming years to the UNFCCC.  Plans from only 45 countries were deposited as of 18 March 2011.  Interestingly, many countries with smaller economies enumerated detailed goals and steps, while countries that are major emitters of greenhouse gases provided only brief, more generic, statements of goals.  A selection from among these larger economies is presented in the table below.

Year for goal
Statement of goal
Expected emissions reduction of between 36.1 and 38.9 % below the level predicted with no actions taken.  Detailed listing of contributing actions provided.
Voluntary measures to reduce CO2 emissions per unit of gross domestic product (GDP; emissions intensity) by 40–45% compared to 2005, increase the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to around 15%, and to increase forest coverage by 40 million hectares (99 million acres).
Voluntary efforts to reduce emissions intensity of its GDP by 20–25% compared with the 2005 level, excluding emissions from agriculture.
Voluntary efforts to reduce emissions by 26% by, among others, lowering the deforestation rate, energy efficiency, developing low-emitting transport means and renewable energy sources.

Importantly, in the table above the goals expressed by China and India are given in terms of emissions intensity, the amount of greenhouse gas emissions needed to produce a unit of economic product.  While the goals of these nations may be to reduce their emissions intensities, they remain at liberty, by their statements of voluntary policies, to increase the absolute amount of their emissions.  These will increase as they expand their economies and strive to achieve higher standards of living for their people.  This feature is a crucial characteristic of the “firewall” between developed and developing countries, considered below in the section on Todd Stern’s remarks.

The Kyoto Protocol included a Clean Development Mechanism, whereby developed countries can contribute to their own reductions in emissions by establishing an emissions-reducing project in a developing country.  Included in this objective is to be an evaluation of carbon capture and storage as a means of preventing CO2 produced from fossil fuels to enter the atmosphere; these developments are intended to be discussed at the Durban conference, and hopefully finalized.  The Cancun agreement also set forth objectives for putting in place policies on land use, land-use change and forestry, including establishing forestry baselines for future reference.  These and related Kyoto-derived objectives, enumerated in the Cancun agreement of 2010, are to be considered further at Durban.

Adaptation activities occurring during the year following Cancun are summarized here.

Financing was discussed in the November 5, 2011 issue of The Economist.  Although Cancun proposed establishing a Green Climate Fund, The Economist points to a report from the Climate Policy Initiative, which finds that climate funding is already flowing, currently at almost US$100 billion a year, with more than half coming from private sources and relatively little directly from governments.  Much of this funding was already under way prior to the Cancun Agreements.

Todd Stern, the Special Envoy for Climate Change in the U. S. State Department, gave a realistic view of current international climate negotiations in his Statement presented to the U. S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs on May 25, 2011 (accessed Nov. 8, 2011).  He pointed out a glaring difficulty in UNFCCC negotiations, and in the Kyoto Protocol of 1997 resulting from it, as a legacy paradigm enshrined since about 1992, namely, that these agreements established a “firewall” (Mr. Stern’s characterization) between developed and developing countries.  The firewall ensures that only developed countries be required to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while developing countries would be free to pursue development without being bound to lower their emissions.  Developing countries were not required to abide by Kyoto.  Most developed countries ratified the Kyoto Protocol, which set up mechanisms and goals to reduce emissions by the acceding parties from the date of entry into force, 2005, through 2012.  The United States did not ratify Kyoto, however, partly because of domestic objections to the distinction between nations that it established. 

Mr. Stern pointed out that the world has changed drastically since the early 1990s, such that the original distinctions no longer make sense.  As of 2009,        4 of the highest 10, and 9 of the highest 20 emitters of CO2 resulting from burning fossil fuels were developing countries (including China).  China’s GDP has grown to be nearly 6 times larger than in 1992, its per capita GDP is more than 5 times larger, its CO2 emissions are nearly 3 times larger and its per capita CO2 emissions are 2.5 times larger.  In contrast, over this time economic growth and increases in emissions from developed countries were far more gradual (see below).
The Copenhagen, Cancun and Durban annual conferences are intended to negotiate an agreement to follow the imminent expiration of the Kyoto Protocol.  These negotiations have been fraught, however.  The policy of the U. S., according to Mr. Stern, is to overturn this historical paradigm, in recognition of the fact that, in the contemporary world, all nations are responsible for controlling climate change.  Most developing countries, including major emitters such as China and India, wish to preserve the firewall by continuing to place the burden for reducing the absolute quantity of greenhouse gas emissions on developed countries.  That is, they seek to negotiate a second stage of the Kyoto Protocol that preserves its developed/developing country distinction.  Most of the signatories to the Kyoto Protocol, as well as the U. S., oppose this unrealistic policy.

Developing countries have espoused, during the course of negotiations, a policy of reducing their emissions intensities, as noted above.  Mr. Stern noted, however, that even while developing countries progress to using energy more efficiently during their development, they still continue to increase the absolute quantity of their emissions as their economies grow.  In Mr. Stern’s view, extending the Kyoto Protocol is “unworkable”.  The parties should not confront the global climate challenge by “focusing only on developed countries when developing countries already account for around 55% of global emissions and will account for 65% by 2030”.  He pointed out that China is the world’s second largest economy, has grown to become the largest emitter of greenhouse gases, and is predicted to have emissions about 90% larger than the U.S. by 2020.

Mr. Stern outlined a new policy developed by the U. S. under President Obama.  First, the U. S. seeks to have all nations of the UNFCCC make commitments to limit emissions of greenhouse gases.  Second, the U. S. recognizes that nations are more willing to accept policies developed internally, according to their own circumstances and national objectives, rather than those imposed on them from an external framework.  This builds on an understanding that all nations, both developed and developing, are more likely to accept policies that they themselves initiate.

CO2 Emissions Rate Continues to Climb.  According to a report by Reuters dated June 8, 2011 (accessed November 10, 2011), China’s CO2 emissions rate was 10.4% higher in 2010 than in the previous year, based on data from the oil company BP.  The company also reported that emissions from the U. S. rose by 4.1%, and that globally overall, the emissions rate increased by 5.8%.  The International Energy Agency reported a 5.9% annual increase for 2010, according to Reuters.  These global rates are corroborated by a separate report, “Long-Term Trend In Global CO2 Emissions, 2011 report”, authored by PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency and the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission (accessed November 8, 2011).  This report states that the emissions rate in China and India increased by 10% and 9%, respectively, in 2010.  It also finds that industrialized countries that ratified the Kyoto Protocol have reduced CO2 emissions by more than 7.5% since 1990, so that they should fulfill the Protocol’s objective of a 5.2% reduction by 2012, when it ends.

Global Warming Continues.  Excessive greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere are understood to cause an increase in long-term global average temperatures.  The U. S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that 2010 tied with 2005 as being the hottest year on record (accessed November 10, 2011).  This assessment was confirmed by the U. S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (accessed November 10, 2011).  In addition, 2010 had the highest recorded global average amount of precipitation.

Projected Future Energy Use and Greenhouse Gas Emissions

The U. S. Energy Information Agency (EIA) issued its report, International Energy Outlook 2011  (designated IEO 2011 here), on Sept. 19, 2011 (for a summary see this post.  The report presents historical worldwide energy usage data to 2008 and forecasts worldwide energy usage from 2008 through 2035.  IEO 2011 frequently divides the world into countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD; United States, Canada, Mexico, Chile, most European countries, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand; here considered developed), and non-OECD countries, including China, India, Russia, Brazil, the Middle East and Africa (here considered developing).

IEO 2011 envisions an overall increase of 53% in yearly world energy usage by 2035 in the absence of any policies limiting use of fossil fuels, based on the amount used in 2008 (see Figure 1), with half of that increase originating in China and India.  Their annual energy

Annual usage of energy in all forms for certain years between 1990 and 2035.  The horizontal spacing of the bars is not linear; the interval at the left is 10 years, while the interval after 2015 is every 5 years. 
Source: U. S. EIA International Energy Outlook 2011

use more than doubles in this period.  Predicted energy consumption by non-OECD countries increases by 85%, whereas OECD nations use only 18% more energy in this time period.

The energy use shown in Figure 1, being mostly derived from fossil fuels, necessarily produces emissions of CO2 into the atmosphere when the fuels are burned.  The actual and predicted emissions of CO2 before and after 2008, respectively, are shown in Figure 2.  Most of the growth in emissions comes from developing countries, for which emissions

Worldwide emissions of CO2 for (left panel, Figure 110) developed (OECD) and developing (Non-OECD) nations, and by fossil fuel used (Liquids is primarily petroleum and its products).  The line at 2008 separates actual data (on the left) and predicted emissions (on the right) assuming no policies limiting emissions are in place.
Source: U. S. EIA International Energy Outlook 2011

increase by 73% by 2035 over the 2008 level of emissions (Figure 2, left panel).  For developed countries, this increase is only 6%.  Worldwide, the emissions from coal increase the greatest, from 39% of the total in 1990, to 43% of the total in 2008, and 45% of the total in 2035.  Much of this arises from China, which is undertaking to install new coal-fired power plants over this time (see the 12th Five Year Plan), and India.

Joeri Rogelj and coworkers, in an article published in Nature Climate Change  Vol.1, pp. 413–418 Year (2011), warned of the high likelihood that the limits on emissions of CO2 required to keep the long-term global average temperature within the 2ºC limit confirmed in the Cancun Agreements might not be attained, but that this limit would be exceeded.  These authors re-examined the results of many model projections of greenhouse gas emissions, using a risk-based analysis.  They concluded that of those models, the ones showing a greater than 66% likelihood for conforming to this temperature limit required emissions to peak between 2010 and 2020, and to fall significantly after that.  They conclude “Without a firm commitment to put in place the mechanisms to enable an early global emissions peak followed by steep reductions thereafter [including by several major emitters], there are significant risks that the 2°C target, endorsed by so many nations, is already slipping out of reach.”

Conclusion.  The world’s nations continue to emit CO2 by burning fossil fuels to fulfill their energy needs.  Emissions in future years are predicted to continue increasing by about 2% per year in the absence of policies which would limit burning of fossil fuels and lower the rate of greenhouse gas emissions.  Among developed countries, the European Union in fact has embarked on a region-wide program to lower emissions drastically by 2050.  The U. S. has no integrated national policy, but California and some regional climate initiatives have undertaken to reduce their emissions.  President Obama’s administration additionally is implementing policies to make petroleum- and natural gas-fueled transportation more efficient. 

In contrast, two of the main developing countries, China and India, are not implementing policies to reduce the absolute amount of greenhouse gases they emit.  At best, they have goals of lowering the emissions intensity of economic production. 

This situation illustrates the persistence of the legacy paradigm identified by U. S. Special Envoy Todd Stern, of the firewall concerning greenhouse gas emissions separating developed from developing countries.  This fundamental difference of opinion remains as perhaps the most important issue to be resolved at a global level, as the UNFCCC has convened its Conferences of the Parties over the years.  The parties of the UNFCCC have to come together to limit worldwide greenhouse gas emissions, ultimately to near zero.  Let us hope that progress toward this objective can be made at the Durban Conference.

© 2011 Henry Auer