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Energy, Emissions and Elevation: 6 Quick Climate Facts

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Today, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a major report that raises the panel’s certainty that human activity, particularly the burning of fossil fuels, is the cause of much of the warming seen in recent years. The World Bank recently updated its data on estimate carbon dioxide emissions along with many other climate relevant indicators in the World Development Indicators. Here are some interesting takeaways from the data:

The World's CO2 emissions grew 4.9% in 2010

That's the 3rd largest annual increase since 1990 (early estimates of 2011 and 2012 emissions show further global increases since 2010, but not quite as large). Nationally, China, the United States, India, Russia and Japan continue to be the top 5 emitters. It's also notable that in 2010 South Korea surpassed Canada in 8th place, and South Africa fell out of the top 10 with an emissions drop of almost 3 percent.

Per capita CO2 emissions in East Asia & Pacific grew 7 times faster than the World average

Globally, per capita CO2 emissions grew 19% between 1992 and 2010. However, there are huge regional differences. During that same time, per capita CO2 emissions grew 134% in the East Asia/Pacific region and 88% in South Asia, but declined 8% in Sub-Saharan Africa and 24% in Europe/Central Asia.


Globally, emissions from electricity production have grown 59% since 1992 

Emissions from manufacturing grew 42% during that same period, while transportation emissions grew 38%. Meanwhile, building-related emissions (building heat, cooking, retail and commercial space, etc) grew only 7%. 

Globally, renewable energy production has grown 13% per year since 2000

Excluding hydropower, global renewable electricity production grew at an average annual rate of 13% between 2000 and 2010, a total increase of 254%. However, many regions increased renewable electricity production much faster. Middle East/North Africa grew at an average annual rate of 26%, while South Asia and Europe & Central Asia grew at 30% and 37% respectively. But as a percentage of total electricity production, renewables are still a small share: just 3.6% globally in 2010.

Methane, not CO2 is the dominant greenhouse gas in low income countries

Besides CO2, methane, nitrous oxide and several other industrial gases contribute to the greenhouse effect. Methane and nitrous oxide, arising mainly from agriculture, have more global warming potency per ton than CO2. But even weighting for potency, CO2 counts for about 75% of global greenhouse gases (not counting CO2 from land use change and deforestation). The GHG breakdown is much different in low income countries, where energy use is a smaller share of the the economy and agriculture a much larger share. In low income countries, methane accounts for 52% of emissions, while CO2 and nitrous oxide account for about 24% each.

Over 450 million people live in areas where the elevation is 5 meters or less

For decision makers concerned about sea level rise, this is a significant concern. Sea levels have been rising at over 3mm per year, which over a few decades will significantly impact populations in low lying areas, and areas vulnerable to typhoons and hurricanes.CIESIN estimates that 7% of the world population in 2000 lived in areas where the elevation is 5 meters or less. Applying that percentage to the latest population data, that means that over 450 million people live in low-lying areas today. Almost 275 million of those people are in Asia and the Pacific.


Tim Herzog

Senior Data Scientist

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