Last Year, the World Pumped Out More Carbon Pollution Than Ever Before

We're one step closer to irreversible climate change.

Dec 17 2014, 10:15pm

​Precisely at the moment that the climate depends on carbon pollution declining, worldwide emissions continue to boom. Case in point: 2013 saw yet another record carbon high, with 35.3 billion tons of CO2 entering the atmosphere.

That's the finding of ​the European Union's​ Joint Research Center, which released its annual report on global emissions today. The document tallies the emissions of fossil fuel power production—coal, oil, and gas—and emissions from industry, especially cement and metal manufacturing.

The record high was reached primarily thanks to developing, coal-hungry giants: "Sharp risers include Brazil (+ 6.2 percent), India (+ 4.4 percent), China (+ 4.2 percent) and Indonesia (+2.3 percent)," the report notes.

The US—the world's largest historic greenhouse gas emitter—grew again after a brief pause, thanks to a return to coal.

"The emissions increase in the United States in 2013 (+2.5 percent) was mainly due to a shift in power production from gas back to coal together with an increase in gas consumption due to a higher demand for space heating."

The silver lining is that the rate of emissions growth is at least slowing: "emissions increased at a notably slower rate (2 percent) than on average in the last ten years (3.8 percent per year since 2003, excluding the credit crunch years)," the report adds. China's emissions are plateauing, after its economy's mega-boom that began in the early 2000s has begun to level off. The EU's emissions have continue to decline, slowly.

The report also notes that there's a 'decoupling' underway, wherein GDP is growing even when carbon emissions slow (the two have historically been intrinsically linked). That's because the globe is shifting to embrace a bigger service economy, and relying a bit less on industrial production.

Sadly, that's not happening nearly fast enough. According to scientists who have estimated our global carbon budget, ​we have a​pproximately 1,200 gigatons of carbon left to burn before we see levels of warning that may be altogether destabilizing to human civilization—2˚C or 3.7˚F worth of temperature rise. Last year, we ate through 37 gigatons of said budget.

The fact that we're still shattering carbon production records in the face of global calamity—after 2˚C of warming, scientists worry about ​'runaway' effects like methane feedbac​k loops—is disquieting. The fact that our international treaty process is woefully toothless and has taken decades to make the tiniest baby step, is further cause for worry.

Unless the international community can quell its thirst for coal and oil, and help developing economies grow with clean power sources, we're heading for more sea level rise, more drought, and melting poles.

It's one record we need to stop breaking.