Carbon Emissions Continue Unrelenting Rise

Product Number: 
VST011

In 2006, atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2)
concentrations reached 381.84 parts per million
by volume, an increase of 0.6 percent over the
record set in 2005.1 (See Figure 1.) Average
CO2 concentrations have risen 20.8 percent
since measurements began in 1959 and are now
more than 100 parts per million higher than in
pre-industrial times.2

Fossil fuel burning represents about 80 percent
of this increase.3 In 2005, the last year
with relevant data, carbon emissions from
this source increased 3 percent to 7.56 billion
tons—more than one ton for every person on
Earth.4 Annual emissions from fossil fuels have
risen 17 percent just since 2000.5 (See Figure 2.)

The United States remains the world’s top
emitter, accounting for over 21 percent of carbon
emissions from fossil fuel burning in
2005.6 U.S. carbon emissions are still on the
rise, but growth rates slowed in 2005 to 0.8
percent, down from a 1.7-percent increase in
2004.7 The largest increases occurred in Asia.8
China’s emissions rose by 9.1 percent in 2005
and experts predict that before 2010 China will
emit more carbon from fossil fuel use than the
United States does.9

In early 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel
on Climate Change released its strongest statement
yet linking rising CO2 emissions and
increasing global temperatures.10 Some 2,500
experts concluded with at least 90 percent certainty
that the observed warming over the last
50 years has been caused by human activities
and that discernible human influences are now
apparent in changed precipitation and storm
intensity and in other instances of extreme
weather worldwide.11 Heatwaves, floods, and
droughts could cause hunger for millions of
people and water shortages for billions, with
the world’s poor hit hardest.12

The average global temperature in 2006 was
14.54 degrees Celsius—the fifth warmest year on
record, according to NASA’s Goddard Institute
of Space Studies.13 (See Figure 3.) Temperatures
far above normal were recorded around the
globe—from Australia and China to the United
Kingdom.14 Over the past century, average global
temperatures have risen nearly 0.06 degrees
Celsius a decade, but the rate of increase has
tripled since 1976.15 Eight of the last 10 years
rank among the 12 warmest on record.16

The climate is warming most rapidly at the
poles.17 Over the past century, Arctic temperatures
rose at almost twice the global average
rate.18 For the first time, Inuits now use air conditioners
as Arctic summers grow longer and
warmer.19 Nearly 9 percent of the September
sea ice in the northern hemisphere is being lost
each decade.20 One model projects that Arctic
summers could be ice-free by 2040.21 In late
2006, the U.S. Interior Department proposed
adding polar bears to the list of threatened
species as accelerating ice loss threatens their
habitat.22

A 2006 report compiled for the U.K. government
estimated that under business as usual the
economic costs of climate change could equal
the loss of 5–20 percent of gross world product
each year, whereas the cost of efforts to avoid
the worst impacts can be limited to about 1
percent of that figure.23 In early 2007, U.N. Secretary-
General Ban Ki-moon warned that upheavals
resulting from climate change impacts
“from droughts to inundated coastal areas and
loss of arable land are likely to become a major
driver of war and conflict.”24

As economic and security concerns intensi-
fied in 2006, the general public, businesses,
and politicians stepped up their responses. The
European Union (EU) carbon market—the
world’s largest—traded an estimated 1 billion
tons of CO2 emissions, worth more than $19
billion.25 Carbon prices fell sharply after the
release of EU emissions data in May but soon
rebounded.26 In the first nine months of 2006,
the global carbon market exceeded $21 billion,
more than double the $10 billion traded in
2005, and included countries not bound by the
Kyoto Protocol, such as China and India.27

In March 2007, EU members agreed to
reduce emissions 20 percent below 1990 levels
by 2020.28 At least 12 states in the United
States have set emissions targets, and U.S. institutional
investors joined 10 leading corporations
in calling for a national policy to reduce
U.S. emissions.29

Notes: 
Steven Piper, Scripps Institution of Oceanography,
University of California, San Diego, e-mail to Una
Song, Worldwatch Institute, 13 March 2007.
2. Increase since 1959 from C. D. Keeling et al.,
“Atmospheric CO2 Concentrations (ppmv) Derived
from In Situ Air Samples Collected at Mauna Lao
Observatory, Hawaii,” Scripps Institution of
Oceanography, University of California, San Diego,
May 2005, and from Piper, op. cit. note 1; preindustrial
value was 280 parts per million, per
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
(IPCC), Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science
Basis—Summary for Policymakers (Geneva: February
2007), p. 2.
3. IPCC, op. cit. note 2, p. 2.
4. Calculated by Worldwatch with data from BP, Statistical
Review of World Energy (London: 2006), and
from G. Marland et al., “Global, Regional, and
National Fossil Fuel CO2 Emissions,” in Carbon
Dioxide Information Analysis Center, A Compendium
of Data on Global Change (Oak Ridge, TN: Oak Ridge
National Laboratory, U.S. Department of Energy,
2006).
5. Calculated by Worldwatch with data from BP, op.
cit. note 4, and from Marland et al., op. cit. note 4.
6. U.S. share calculated by Worldwatch: global total
estimated with data from Marland et al., op. cit.
note 4, and from BP, op. cit. note 4; U.S. emissions
from U.S. Energy Information Administration,
Office of Integrated Analysis and Forecasting, Emissions
of Greenhouse Gases in the United States 2005
(Washington, DC: November 2006), p. 13.
7. Lauren Morello, “Climate: U.S. Electricity Demand
Spurred 0.8 Percent Rise in ’04 Emissions—EPA,”
Environment and Energy News, 20 February 2007.
8. Alister Doyle, “Greenhouse Gases Hit New High,
May Be Asia Growth,” Reuters, 19 February 2007.
9.Worldwatch calculation, based on BP, op. cit. note
4; surpassing United States before 2010 according
to International Energy Agency, World Energy Outlook
2006 (Paris: 2006), Executive Summary, p. 5.
10. IPCC, op. cit. note 2.
11. Number of experts from Michael Byrnes, “Interview—
Scientist Says Sea Level Rise Could Accelerate,”
Reuters, 13 March 2007; IPCC, op. cit. note 2,
pp. 8, 10.
12. Alister Doyle, “Tropical Losers, Northern Winner for
Warming?” Scientific American, 3 April 2007;
Andrew C. Revkin, “Poor Nations to Bear Brunt as
World Warms,” New York Times, 1 April 2007.
13. Land-ocean index from J. Hansen et al., “Global
Land-Ocean Temperature Index in .01C, Base
Period 1951–1980 (January-December),” Goddard
Institute for Space Studies, at www.giss.nasa.gov/
data/update/gistemp/GLB.Ts+dSST.txt.
14. Australia from Andrew C. Revkin, “Global Warming
Trend Continues in 2006, Climate Agencies Say,”
New York Times, 15 December 2006; China from
“Shanghai Has Warmest Winter on Record,” Reuters,
2 March 2007; United Kingdom from Ian Sample,
“This Year Will Be Britain’s Warmest Since Records
Began, Say Scientists,” Guardian, 14 December 2006.
15. U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
(NOAA), “NOAA Says U.S. Winter Temperature
Near Average, Global December-February
Temperature Warmest on Record,” press release
(Washington, DC: 15 March 2007).
16. Hansen et al., op. cit. note 13.
17. Peter N. Spotts, “New Search for Global Warming at
Poles,” Christian Science Monitor, 26 February 2007;
Lauren Morello, “Climate: Int’l Research Effort ‘to
Unlock Mysteries of the Poles’,” Greenwire, 26 February
2007.
18. IPCC, op. cit. note 2, p. 8.
19. Deborah Zabarenko, “Global Warming Is a Human
www.worldwatch.org Vital Signs 2007–2008 135
Notes
Rights Issue—Nobel Nominee,” Reuters, 5 March
2007.
20. September ice from IPCC, op. cit. note 2, p. 8, and
from National Climatic Data Center, NOAA, “Climate
of 2006—Annual Report, 11 January 2007, at
www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/climate/research/2006/ann/
global.html.
21. “Climate: This Winter Was World’s Warmest on
Record, Feds Say,” Greenwire, 16 March 2007; “The
Senate’s Task on Warming” (editorial), New York
Times, 6 January 2007.
22. “Senate’s Task on Warming,” op. cit. note 21.
23. Nicholas Stern, The Economics of Climate Change: The
Stern Review (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University
Press, 2006), Summary of Conclusions and
Executive Summary.
24. Michelle Nichols, “Climate Change as Dangerous as
War—UN Chief Ban,” Reuters, 2 March 2007.
25. Darren Samuelsohn, “Climate: Lawmakers Begin
Looking Abroad for Clues on Emission Curbs,”
Greenwire, 26 March 2007.
26. International Emissions Trading Association and
World Bank, State and Trends of the Carbon Market
2006, Update: (January 1-September 30, 2006) (Washington,
DC: October 2006), Executive Summary.
27. First nine months of 2006 from International Emissions
Trading Association and World Bank, op. cit.
note 26; 2005 total from Heather Timmons, “Data
Leaks Shake Up Carbon Trade,” New York Times, 16
May 2006; China and India from The Climate Institute,
“Join the $30 Billion International Carbon
Market,” press release (Sydney, Australia: 7 February
2007).
28. “Climate: EU Commits to Emissions, Renewable
Energy Targets,” Greenwire, 9 March 2007.
29. States from David Ammons, “Lawmakers Join Al
Gore’s Crusade to Ease Climate Change,” Seattle
Post-Intelligencer, 10 March 2007; Timothy Gardner,
“Investors to Press US Congress on Global
Warming,” Reuters, 19 March 2007.