CO2 highlights of new IEA report

New IEA energy report on fossil fuel CO2We already know the downturn of 2009 led to a 4 day CO2 emissions pause and (thanks to another IEA release) that 2010 brought a new fossil fuel CO2 emissions record (of 30.6 Gt) – which contributed to a record-high increase of atmospheric CO2 concentrations (+2.6 ppm).

We are now of course in anticipation of 2011 figures. But it is also worthwhile to better analyse the previous years – and get to the nitty-gritty of energy-related emission sources, as the World Energy Outlook 2011 does.

In the pre-released special report (PDF) about CO2 emissions from fuel sources the IEA takes a detailed look at what happened up to the year 2009. We think from an international perspective the below graph is most interesting:world fossil fuel CO2 emissions coal

It shows that the only way for us to temporarily have not-growing emissions as when we have a big international crisis, like the first oil crisis (1973), the second oil crisis (1979) and the financial crisis, which started to unfold over 2008 – and led to a subsequent recession.

The weaker crises and lesser recessions in between do nothing to prevent fossil fuel energy consumption to continue a rising trend*.

[*) The bit of underlying good news that is being masked by this graph is a slight decoupling of economic growth from CO2 emissions - as the carbon intensity per dollar of GDP has according to UNEP declined by 23 percent since 1992.]

That will get us in trouble soon, as we have less than 565 gigatonnes of CO2 to play around with over the next 38 years.

The renaissance of coal

The graph also shows another story: a steeper rise in global CO2 emissions from somewhere around 2002. When you take a closer look at the different fossil fuel sources you can notice up to that point the growth in global coal consumption had been more or less stable – but both absolute growth and relative share (compared to oil and natural gas) have increased since.

By now this coal renaissance is close to adding an extra 0.5 gigatonnes of CO2 to the atmosphere each year. There you go – increased coal consumption is the main reason why the Kyoto Protocol [the group of industrialised nations has to decrease CO2 emissions between 1990 and 2012 by an average 5.2 percent] is so confusing to the atmosphere.

Do hope we now balanced our two recent coal propaganda pieces. Check ‘coal leads to climate cooling’ and ‘coal is better than gas’ – if you still want to take a look. It’s all relative, is the one thing we recall from science class.

But whatever view you hold on which fossil fuel is worse – it is time to set a date for Peak Coal anyway, that’s what the IEA would agree, judging by last year’s World Energy Outlook.

Rolf Schuttenhelm | www.bitsofscience.org

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