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China to boost clean energy as global CO2 climbs to all-time high

Global emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) from burning of fossil fuel reached a record high of 31.6 billion metric tonnes in 2011, according to preliminary estimates by the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Coal-fired power plant.

Photo by vxla via Flickr under Creative Commons.

Emissions were around one billion tonnes higher than in 2010, the agency says. Coal accounted for 45% of emissions in 2011, followed by oil (35%) and natural gas (20%).

Experts reckon that global CO2 emissions would need to peak at 32.6 gigatonnes by no later than 2017 to give the world a 50% chance of limiting the rise in global average temperature to 2 °C. This no longer seems very likely.

“The new data provide further evidence that the door to a 2 °C trajectory is about to close,” IEA chief economist Fatih Birol said on announcing the figures.

China’s emissions rose by 720 million tonnes, or 9.3%, owing mainly to higher coal consumption. In 2010, China surpassed the United States as the world’s largest emitter of CO2.

However, China’s carbon intensity — the amount of CO2 emitted per unit of gross domestic product — has decreased by 15% since 2005. And the Chinese government plans to keep up massive investment in energy efficiency and renewable energies.

Yesterday the Chinese ministry of finance announced it would spend CN¥170 billion (US$27 billion) this year on energy conservation and emission reductions.

“What China has done over such a short period of time to improve energy efficiency and deploy clean energy is already paying major dividends to the global environment,” Birol said.

Emissions decreased last year in the United States (1.7%) and in the European Union (1.9%).

Since 2006, the United States has cut its emissions by a total 430 million tonnes (7.7%) — the largest reduction in all countries and regions — thanks mainly to the switch from coal to natural gas in power generation, according to IEA analysts.

In Japan, emissions increased in 2011 by 28 million tonnes (2.4%) as a result mainly of increased fossil-fuels use after the Fukushima nuclear accident. India’s emissions rose by 140 million tonnes (8.7%), moving it ahead of Russia to become the world’s fourth-largest emitter.

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