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GHG on the Rise!

April 17, 2012

Bottom line! All the brouhaha heard around the world about clean energy hasn’t amounted to a hill of beams.

Why? The 2012 U.S. Greenhouse Gas Inventory Report by the EPA, which summarizes the latest information on U.S. anthropogenic greenhouse gas emission trends from 1990 through 2010 concluded “total U.S. emissions have increased by 10.5 percent from 1990 to 2010. Since 1990, U.S. emissions have increased at an average annual rate of 0.5 percent. Furthermore, “emissions increased from 2009 to 2010 by 3.2 percent.”(1)

The report attributed the increase “from 2009 to 2010 was primarily due to an increase in economic output resulting in an increase in energy consumption across all sectors, and much warmer summer conditions resulting in an increase in electricity demand for air conditioning that was generated primarily by combusting coal and natural gas.”(1)

It’s probably true that without all the strides in wind and solar farms and energy efficiency measures, the trend would be considerably worse. However, it is generally believed within the scientific community that greenhouse gas emissions must be cut in half by 2050 in order to prevent global temperatures from increasing by more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius).

To make matters worse, the U.S. is not alone. In December 2011, The New York Times reported, “Global emissions of carbon dioxide from fossil-fuel burning jumped by the largest amount on record last year, upending the notion that the brief decline during the recession might persist through the recovery. Emissions rose 5.9 percent in 2010…… The increase solidified a trend of ever-rising emissions that scientists fear will make it difficult, if not impossible, to forestall severe climate change in coming decades.”(2)

Even today, The Sidney Morning Herald reported, “Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions continued to rise last year, driven by an increase in vehicle use and gases leaking from coalmines, federal government data show. The nation released 546 million tonnes more carbon dioxide than its land mass absorbed last year, not including the data from changes in land use and logging, which is recorded separately. This is a 0.6 per cent increase on the 2010 emissions figure, still below the nation’s peak in 2008.”(3)

To better understand the trend, this 2002 graph from the EIA presents data on the major global sources of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by country, from the beginning of the Industrial Revolution to the present, (4). Only skiers and mountain climbers would enjoy such a profile.

The following world map shows CO2 emissions for 2009 by country.(5) From highest to lowest, the top 10 bad boys for pure CO2 emissions is China, United States, India, Russia, Japan, Germany, Canada, South Korea, Iran and the United Kingdom.  There is a large disparity in emissions between China (7,710 metric tonnes) and the UK (520 metric tonnes).  A difference of about 1,400%!

The Guardian reported, “on pure emissions alone, the key points are:

  • China (#1) emits more CO2 than the US (#2) and Canada (#7) put together – up by 171% since the year 2000
  • China generates 23.6 % of global total annual emissions.
  • The UK (#10) only produces 1.6 % of global total annual emissions.
  • The US has had declining CO2 for two years running, the last time the US had declining CO2 for 3 years running was in the 1980s
  • The UK is down one place to tenth on the list, 8% on the year. The country is now behind Iran, South Korea, Japan and Germany
  • India is now the world’s third biggest emitter of CO2 – pushing Russia into fourth place
  • The biggest decrease from 2008-2009 is Ukraine – down 28%. The biggest increase is the Cook Islands – up 66.7%.”(5)

By per capita emissions, “a different picture emerges where:

  • Some of the world’s smallest countries and islands emit the most per person – the highest being Gibraltar with 152 tonnes per person
  • The US is still number one in terms of per capita emissions among the big economies – with 18 tonnes emitted per person
  • China, by contrast, emits under six tonnes per person, India only 1.38
  • For comparison, the whole world emits 4.49 tonnes per person.”(5)

In closing, the trend is obviously going the wrong way. Much more must be done. But what! The 17th Conference of the Parties (“COP17”) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) ended in failure last December. The Kyoto Protocol, which lacked agreement by the U.S. and China, is slated to expire in 2012.  What will happen to cap-and-trade, carbon credits and carbon markets in a Post–Kyoto world.?

The real question is – do American’s in the public and private sectors have the resolve, wherewithal and leadership to finally make a difference. Rhetoric says “Yes,” performance says “NO.”

Does it really matter that 2011 tied for the 10th-hottest year since records began in 1850?

Does it really matter that the 13 hottest years on the books all have occurred in the last 15 years?

Does it really matter that Arctic sea ice has also shrunk to record-low volumes?

Does it really matter that “it is estimated that 20 to 30 percent of plant and animal species will be at increased extinction if global temperature rises more than 3.6-5.4 degrees Fahrenheit?(6)

Does it really matter that in the not too distant future humanity may find it difficult to survive on planet earth?


(1)  “Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks:,” EPA, April 15, 2012,

(2)  “Carbon Emissions Show Biggest Jump Ever Recorded,” The New York Times, December 4, 2011,

(3)  “Greenhouse gas emissions still on the rise,” The Sydney Morning Herald, April 18, 2012,

(4)  “Global Greenhouse Gas Data,” U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,

(5)  “World carbon dioxide emissions data by country: China speeds ahead of the rest,” The Guardian, January 31, 2011

(6)  “Heat, Livers and Herbivores: Climate change and wildlife,” The Science Times,”  Thursday, March 29, 2012

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