The Hard Numbers on Climate Change


Washington D.C., July 16, 2001: As negotiations on the Kyoto Protocol enter a new round in Bonn this week (Monday, July 16 to Friday, July 27) and G8 leaders gather in Genoa, Italy, beginning this Friday, July 20, the global community is braced for a climate showdown between EU leaders and the Bush administration. Although President Bush has questioned the need for the emissions reductions required in the Kyoto Protocol, recent scientific reports by the International Panel on Climate Change and the US National Academy of Sciences have been even firmer than earlier ones in their conclusion that emissions reductions are urgently needed.

Vital Signs 2001, published by the Washington DC based environmental research organization Worldwatch Institute, provides detailed information on the prospects for further reducing dependence on fossil fuels, the promise of alternative energy sources and the many costs of climate change. Useful information from Vital Signs and other Worldwatch publications are summarized below:

Worldwatch climate change experts, Christopher Flavin and Seth Dunn are available for comment from Monday, July 16 to Friday, July 27, 2001.

Facts and figures from Vital Signs 2001 and other Worldwatch publications:

Fossil Fuel Use and Renewable Energy

  • World fossil fuel consumption declined 0.2% in 2000, but fossil fuels still account for 90% of commercial energy use, with 25% of world energy derived from coal and 41% from oil; global oil use was up 1.1% in 2000.
  • World coal consumption was down 4.5% in 2000; China, which also accounts for 25%, used 3.5% less coal in 2000 than in 1999.
  • Wind power is the world's fastest growing energy source over the last decade, and grew by 30% in 2000. Wind power accounts for less than 1 percent of electricity worldwide, but recently passed 15% in Denmark.
  • Production of solar electric cells jumped 43 percent in 2000; by comparison, nuclear generation increased by just 0.5%.

Carbon Emissions

  • Global carbon emissions fell for the third straight year in 2000, to 6.3 billion tons
  • (-0.6%); global carbon emissions increased 6% in the decade of the 1990s, compared to the 15 % gain in the 1980s, 29% in the 1970s, and 58% in the 1960s.
  • US carbon emissions are now 13% above 1990 levels, a sharp contrast with the 7% cut in greenhouse gases by 2010 that the US agreed to in Kyoto; the increase in US emissions between 1990 and 2000 exceeds the combined increase of China, India, and Africa.
  • Japan, due for a 6% reduction by 2010 is now 13% above the 1990 mark.
  • EU carbon emissions are now 0.5% below 1990 levels, due in large measure to substantial reductions in coal burning in Germany and the U.K.; additional effort is needed to reach the EU's Kyoto target of 8% below 1990 levels in 2010.
  • Carbon emissions in China fell 18 % between 1996 and 2000; by contrast, emissions grew 80 percent in South Korea during that period, and increased 57 percent in India.
  • In the US, carbon emissions from vehicles in 1997 (291 million tons) exceeded total emissions of all but a few nations; US fuel economy for new cars has failed to improve since the mid-1980s, due to the growing popularity of sports utility vehicles.

The Impact of Climate Change

  • Scientists have detected a 40% reduction in the average thickness of Arctic ice over the past 40 years; at the current rate of warming, the Arctic could be ice-free in summer by mid-century, which could severely affect the flow of the Gulf Stream and the climate of northern Europe.
  • An estimated 27% of the world's coral reefs are now severely damaged, up from 10% in 1992. If global warming persists, as many as 60% of all reefs could be lost by 2030 and with them the sheltering effect from storm damage they provide for coastlines.
  • During the 1990s the economic toll from natural disasters topped $608 billion, more than the previous four decades combined; as sea levels rise and weather extremes become more common in the coming decades, our vulnerability to natural disasters will continue to grow.

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