2012's carbon emissions in five graphs
- 01 Nov 2013, 14:10
- Freya Roberts
Could global carbon dioxide emissions be about to peak? That was
the suggestion from
some parts of the media yesterday after a new report revealed
the increase in global carbon dioxide emissions had slowed in
study, by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency and
the European Commission's Joint Research Centre, showed carbon
dioxide emissions rose 1.1 per cent last year - considerably less
than the average rise over the last decade of nearly three per
This lead many, including the study's authors, to consider
whether 2012 marked the start of a "permanent slowdown" in
emissions. But is that really the big picture?
We explain what's going on with five simple graphs.
1. Carbon emissions rose
Global carbon dioxide emissions continued to increase in 2012.
Emissions were up 1.1 per cent on 2011 levels, which is a smaller
increase than the average over the last decade (2.9 per cent). It's
important to note that this is still a rise, however. Overall, a
record 34 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide were emitted last
Note too that the rise in emissions hasn't been
uniform, so a slower year isn't really that unusual.
2. Renewable energy grew, but fossil fuels
The amount of energy from carbon-free or low-carbon
sources continued to grow in 2012. Compared to 1990 levels,
renewable energy was up by 733 per cent in 2012. The amount of
power which came from low carbon sources was up 41 per cent on 1990
But as a share of the total amount of energy we
use (indicated by the size of each circle), renewables and low
carbon are still way behind carbon-rich fossil fuels like coal, oil
3. Developing countries produced more
In 2012, developing countries like China, India
and Mexico produced 59 per cent of the world's carbon dioxide
emissions, while industrialised countries and regions like the EU,
US and Russia emitted 41 per cent.
Overall, developed countries managed to cut back
their carbon emissions. The US, for example, cut its carbon dioxide
emissions by 200 million tonnes from 2011 levels, as shale gas
continued to replace coal. But Japan bucked the trend - emissions
there rose in 2012 after the country shut its nuclear power plants
following the Fukushima accident.
Carbon cuts in the industrialised world weren't
enough to offset rising emissions in fast-growing economies like
4. The highest emissions came from China, the
US, and the EU
In absolute terms, China emitted the most carbon
dioxide in 2012 - releasing 9860 megatonnes into the atmosphere.
One megatonne is equivalent to one million tonnes - so we're
talking really big figures here. The US emitted 5190 megatonnes of
carbon dioxide, and the EU emitted 3740 megatonnes.
How does that compare to the previous year?
China's emissions in 2012 were three per cent higher than in 2011.
Emissions in the US were down four per cent on 2011 levels, and in
the EU they fell 1.6 per cent.
5. Per person, Australia emitted the most
Divided up per person, each country's share of
the world's emissions looks a little different. Australia had the
highest per capita emissions in 2012 at 18.8 tonnes. In the US,
emissions per capita were 16.4 tonnes, and just behind came
oil-rich Saudi Arabia with per capita emissions of 16.2
The EU and China - both major emitters in
absolute terms - had much smaller per capita emissions, at 7.4 and
7.1 tonnes respectively.
The big picture
This report offers a mixed picture in the
context of climate change. Renewables and low carbon sources
provided more energy, and a bigger share of the world's total
energy demand in 2012. In addition, emissions rose slightly more
slowly than the average over the last decade.
But a slow rise is still a rise. It doesn't
matter whether it's coming from developed or developing countries
ultimately - 2012 still saw the highest carbon dioxide emissions on
All images in this blog were reproduced with kind
permission of the PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency.
They are actually interactive graphics - you can play around with