Global CO2 emissions: annual increase halves in 2008


The very high oil prices until the summer of 2008 together with a worldwide financial crisis that started to affect activities in society worldwide, in particular in the second half of 2008, have caused halving of the annual increase in global emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) from fossil fuel use and from cement production. Emissions increased by 1.7% in 2008 against 3.3% in 2007. Since 2002, the average annual increase was almost 4%. In addition to high oil prices and the financial crisis, the increased use of new renewable energy sources, such as biofuels for road transport and wind energy for electricity generation, caused a noticeable mitigating impact on CO2 emissions. These figures are based on preliminary estimates by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL), using recently published energy data from BP (British Petroleum), and cement and steel production data for 2007 and 2008 and emission data per country through 2005 from the joint EDGAR study of the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) and the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL).

New basic dataset for 1970-2005 emissions

Here we discuss the results of a trend assessment of global CO2 emissions through 2008. This is an update of last year’s assessment, which did run through 2007. To estimate global emissions through 2005 we use the results of the joint EDGAR 4.0 project of the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) and the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL), which provides greenhouse gas emissions for the period 1970-2005 (JRC/PBL, 2009). For the fuel-related emissions this dataset uses international energy statistics from the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the latest methodology and emission factors as published in the 2006 IPCC Guidelines for GHG Emission Inventories (IPCC, 2006). For other sources of CO2, other available international statistics were used. For EDGAR 4.0 for greenhouse gas emissions the latest methodology and emission factors were used as recommended in de 2006 IPCC Guidelines on GHG Inventories (IPCC, 2006). Moreover, to improve completeness, several other small sources identified in the 2006 IPCC Guidelines were added, such as waste incineration and fossil fuel fires, which add about 0.3% to fuel combustion emissions, and other so-called industrial non-combustion processes besides cement, such as production of lime and soda ash, which collectively add 21% to global cement production emissions in 2005. Fossil fuel fires refer to the relatively small CO2 emissions from underground coal fires (mainly in China and India) and oil and gas fires (Kuwait). Together with waste incineration (fossil carbon such as plastic), these amount to about 75 million tonnes of CO2.

Figure: area chart of the global CO2 emission from fuel use and cement production by region 1990-2008; the share of global CO<sub>2</sub> emissions from developing countries is slightly higher (50.3 %) than from industrialised countries (46.6 %) and international transport (3.2%) together

CO2 sources considered: fossil fuel use and carbonate uses such as cement production

In this assessment we included CO2 emissions from (1) fossil fuel combustion (oil, coal and gas), (2) other industrial activities such as cement clinker production, (3) other fuel use for non-energetic purposes (e.g., as feedstock in the production of chemicals such as ammonia) and (4) flaring and venting of unutilised gas in oil and gas production, and including some other small sources. For each country the trend from 2005 onwards was estimated using the appropriate activity data or approximated with trends in related statistics as estimator. For the large fraction of fuel combustion emissions that account globally for more than 90% of total CO2 emissions, 2005 emissions were split into four main fuel types: coal and coal products, oil products, natural gas and other fuels (e.g. fossil-carbon containing waste), of which the trend was estimated using BP data (BP, 2009). For oil consumption the BP figures were corrected for biofuel (fuel ethanol and biodiesel) which are included in the BP oil consumption data (see Olivier and Peters (2009, in prep.) for more details). Likewise, the fugitive emissions were separated into solid fuels (coke production) and oil and gas (gas flaring and venting), for which steel production statistics (WSA, 2009) and flaring statistics (GGFR, 2009) were used to estimate trends through 2008. For other sources, cement production and steel production was used as trend indicator. For more details on the methodology and data sources used are presented in Olivier and Peters (2009, in prep.)

The emission figures exclude CO2 emissions from forest and peat fires and from post-burn decay of remaining aboveground biomass and from decomposition of organic carbon in drained peat soils, which mostly affect developing countries. These would add another 20% to global CO2 emissions, albeit highly uncertain and highly varying between years. Moreover estimates for 2008 from these sources are not yet available. For more information on recent emissions from forest and peat fires see the Global Carbon Project (GCP, 2009).

2008: prices, crisis and climate policies decreased oil use and slowed down increasing coal use

In retrospect, the year 2008 can be characterised as follows:

  • very high oil prices in market economies until the summer of 2008; in several countries, natural gas prices are coupled to the oil price, but with a delay of about a half year (EIA; Eurostat)
  • the financial crisis started to affect economic activities worldwide from the summer, showing large decreases in industrial production (e.g. WSA, Eurostat) and in some countries a decrease in fuel consumption in transport (e.g. USA, Spain)
  • production and consumption of renewable energy showed a continued larges increases, such as windenergy and biofuels in transport (REN21, 2009; UNEP/NFI, 2009)
  • in Europe, the CO2 Emission Trading Scheme (ETS) entered its next phase in the first year of the Kyoto period 2008-2012, with stricter national CO2 caps than in previous years
  • average winter temperatures were, in general, not very different compared to 2007.

Preliminary estimates of CO2 emissions in 2008 have been published for the USA (EIA, 2009), Germany (BMU, 2009), the UK (DECC, 2009) and Spain (CC.OO, 2009). More information on emission and activity trends in these countries can be found in the reference list.


Increasing global CO2 emissions: increasing trend halved in 2008

In 2008 global CO2 emissions increased by 1.7%, compared to 3.3% in 2007. Since 2002, the annual average increase was 3.8%. Increasing emissions from China and India accounted for about 45% and 10% of the change. On the other hand, the USA and EU-15 contributed about 20% and 5% to the mitigation of the global increase. Global CO2 emissions increased from 16.3 billion metric tonnes in 1970 to 22.3 billion tonnes in 1990 and 31.6 billion in 2008. This represents a 41% increase since 1990.

Share CO2 emissions developing countries now 50%, higher than industrialized countries

Carbon dioxide is the most important greenhouse gas, contributing about three-quarters to global greenhouse gases. For the first time in history, the share of CO2 emissions from developing countries was in 2008 with 50.3% just larger than those of industrialised countries (46.6%), which have an emission mitigation target under the Kyoto Protocol, and from international transport (3.2%) together. This pattern is also visible in the energy data from BP, which showed that in 2008 for the first time developing countries leapfrogged industrialised countries in primary energy consumption. The emission figures exclude CO2 emissions from forest and peat fires and post-burn decay, which mostly affect developing countries. These would add another 20% to global CO2 emissions, albeit highly uncertain and highly varying between years.

In a press release on EDGAR 4.0 released in May by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) and the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL) it was concluded that when taking into account all other greenhouse gases, such as methane and nitrous oxide, the leapfrog moment occurred in 2004, due to the higher share of developing countries in emissions of these other gases. As international negotiations on climate change ahead of the UN conference in Copenhagen later this year (COP15) are prepared, a global perspective on present day trends in greenhouse gas emissions in both industrialised and developing countries is of great importance to all participating parties.

Oil consumption: decreased by one per cent due to high prices and more biofuels

The lower increase of CO2 emissions was mainly due to a decrease in global fossil oil consumption of about 0.6%, the first global decrease since 1992.

Regional differences: Major regional differences are seen. In particular in the USA, where petrol prices almost doubled in the summer of 2008 compared to 2007 levels, oil consumption dropped significantly showing a 7% decrease. In China oil consumption increased 3% in 2008 according to BP data, which is down from 5% in 2007 and 8% on average since 2001. Increasing use of biofuels such as bioethanol and biodiesel also contributed about 0.3%-point to the global decrease. Moreover, if 2008 would not have been a leap year with an extra day, fuel consumption and emissions would have been even 0.3 to 0.4%-points lower.

Coal consumption: lower increase due to financial crisis and more renewable electricity

Global emissions from coal consumption increased by 3.5% which is less than in previous years, where average annual increases were about 5%. High fuel prices, the European CO2 Emission Trading Scheme (ETS) and the global recession starting after last year’s summer are the likely causes of this decrease. Globally, three quarters of coal consumption is used for electricity production and one quarter for iron and steel production. In particular steel production showed a smaller worldwide increase of 2% in 2008 versus about 8% in the years since 2002.

Regional differences: In China steel production showed an increase of 2%, down from 16% in 2007. The USA showed decreases of 7% in steel production in 2008 and in electricity production of 1%, while showing modest increases in previous years. In Europe, emissions from large industries (‘ETS sector’) showed a 3% decrease in 2008, largely caused by a decrease in power plant emissions. Emissions from electricity generation decreased in part due to high fuel prices and CO2 prices in the ETS causing a shift from coal to natural gas and to the use of more renewable sources for power generation.

Gas consumption: lower increase due to financial crisis and more renewable electricity

The trend in global CO2 emissions from the use of natural gas, which increased by 2.8% in 2008, did not show large differences compared to previous years.

Regional differences: Trends per country show considerable differences. In the EU-15 gas consumption increased 2.5%. The USA (1%), Japan (4%) and China (16%) showed smaller increases in 2008 then in 2007, when gas consumption of these countries increased by 6%, 8% and 21%, respectively.

Biofuels and other renewable energy sources start impacting CO2 trends

The increasing use of new renewable energy sources begins to show a significant impact on the global trend in CO2 emissions. In the USA and the European Union (EU-15), the share of fuel ethanol and biodiesel in road transport fuel increased about a per cent. Also in China, biofuels are increasingly being used as transport fuel. Biofuels contributed in 2008 about 2.5% to global fuel consumption in road transport, representing a gross savings of over 100 million tonnes in CO2 emissions. Wind energy is another renewable energy source, which production is increasing at very high rates. In 2008, global production capacity increased by almost 30%, with increases in China and the USA of about 100% and 50%. According to a recent report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP/NFI, 2009), 2008 was the first year that new power generation investments in renewables were greater than investments in fossil-fuelled technologies. Excluding large-scale hydropower, renewables contributed 4.4% to global power generation, a half per cent more than in 2007, thereby avoiding about 500 million tonne of CO2 emissions in 2008. These figures can be compared to the increase in global emissions in 2008 of about 550 million metric tons of CO2 and to global total CO2 emissions in 2008 of about 31,500 million ton.

Trends in USA, European Union, China, Russia and India

In total, CO2 emissions of the USA and the European Union decreased by about 3% and 1.5% in 2008, Although China’s emissions showed an increase of 6%, this is the lowest increase since 2001. Cement production in China showed a similar pattern, with a 2.5% increase in 2008, a drop from 9.5% in 2007. The declining increase of China’s emissions fits in the trend since 2004, when its emissions increased by 17%. Smaller contributions to increasing global emissions were made by India and Russia, which emissions increased by 7% and 2%, respectively.

Since 1990, CO2 emissions per person of China have increased from 2 to 5.5 tonne of CO2 per capita and decreased from 9 to 8.5 for the EU-15 and from 19.5 to 18.5 for the USA. These changes reflect the large economic development of China, structural changes in national and global economies and the impact of climate and energy policies.

It can be observed that due to its fast economic development, per capita emissions of China quickly approaches levels that are common within the industrialised countries of the Annex I group under the Kyoto Protocol. Among the largest countries, other countries that show fast increasing per capita emissions are South Korea, Iran and Australia. On the other hand per capita emissions of the EU-15 and the USA are gradually decreasing over time. Those of Russia and Ukraine have decreased fast since 1990, although the emissions in 1990 and therefore the trend are rather uncertain due to the dissolution of the former Soviet Union in the early 1990s.

Country 1990 2008 difference
Table 1: Trend in CO2/capita emissions 1990-2008 of the Annex I Countries (unit: tonne CO2/cap.)
USA 19.3 18.5 -0.8
EU-15 9.1 8.5 -0.6
o.w. France 6.7 6.4 -0.3
o.w. Germany 12.8 9.8 -3.0
o.w. Italy 7.5 8.3 0.8
o.w. Spain 5.8 7.9 2.1
o.w. UK 10.2 8.7 -1.5
Japan 9.2 10.0 0.8
Australia 16.0 18.3 2.3
Canada 16.1 17.0 0.9
Russia 15.7 11.9 -3.8
Ukraine 14.8 7.9 -6.9
Table 2: trend in CO2/capita emissions 1990-2008 of the Non-Annex I countries
Country 1990 2008 difference
China 2.2 5.7 3.6
India 0.8 1.4 0.6
Brazil 1.5 2.2 0.7
Mexico 3.7 4.2 0.5
Iran 3.6 6.9 3.3
South Korea 5.9 10.8 4.9
Indonesia 0.9 1.8 0.9

Note: Annex I countries are industrialised countries with an emission target under the Kyoto Protocol.

Methodology and data sources

The recent trend estimates were compiled by PBL, using the trends in most recent data on fossil fuel consumption from the BP Review of Energy 2008 (BP, 2009) and cement production data through 2008, published by the US Geological Survey (USGS, 2009). The CO2 estimates for 2006, 2007 and 2008 were compiled by PBL, using the detailed national CO2 emission estimates for energy use through 2006, compiled by the International Energy Agency (IEA, 2008), and estimates for flaring and venting using data from the Global Gas Flaring Reduction partnership for 2004-2007 (GGFR, 2008).

The estimates of CO2 emissions do not include CO2 emissions from deforestation/logging and peat fires and subsequent post-burn emissions from decay of remaining aboveground biomass and from drained peat soils. Though significant, being highly uncertain, CO2 emissions from the decay of organic materials of plants and trees, which remain after forest burning and logging, are also not included.Annual CO2 emissions and from peat in Indonesia were estimated at 400-5000 million tonne CO2 (Hooijer et al., 2006), including emissions from frained peat soils. New estimates by Van der Werff et al. (2008) indicate that except for peak years due to an El Niňo, emissions from peat fires are not as large as the wide range suggests.

However, CO2 emissions from underground coal fires in China and elsewhere have been included now, although the magnitude of these sources is very uncertain. The estimates for the amount burned in China varied by a factor of 10. However, new analysis of available information by Van Dijk et al. (2009, in prep.) showed that the higher number referred to the amount ‘lost’, which includes all coal below the fire area that has been made inaccessible because of the fire; this would be a factor of 10 higher than the amount of coal actually burned. The conclusion is that emissions from coal fires in China are actually at the lower end of the wide range of 15-45 and 150-450 million tonnes per year, thus around 30 million tonnes CO2 per year. This is equivalent to about 0.4% of China’s CO2 emissions in 2008.

Data quality and uncertainties

The energy data annually published by BP, appears to be reasonably accurate.For example, based on older BP energy data, the increase in 2005 in global CO2 emissions from fuel combustion was estimated at 3.3%, globally. With presently available and more detailed statistics of the International Energy Agency (IEA) for 2005, the increase is now estimated at 3.2%. At country level, differences can be larger, in particular for small countries and countries with a large share in international marine fuel consumption (so-called bunkers) and with a large share in non-combustion fuel use. Moreover, energy statistics for fast changing economies, such as China, are less accurate than those for the traditional, industrialised countries within the OECD.

Other recent analyses of CO2 emissions from fossil-fuel use and cement production have suggested that the uncertainty of CO2 emission estimates could be about 2 to 3% for the USA and as high as 15 to 20% for China (Gregg et al., 2008). However, the estimate for China is based on revisions of energy data for the transition period in the late 1990s, which may not be applicable to more recent energy statistics. Based on subsequent revisions of emission estimates made by the IEA, PBL estimates the uncertainty in the preliminary estimates for China − caused by uncertainty in the energy data − at about 10%.

Refrences and more information

  • BMU,2009. Development of Renewable Energies in Germany in 2008. BMU-KI III 1 – RE Data 2008. Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU), Division KI III 1, April 2009.
  • BP, 2009. BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2008. Also Press release on the report.
  • DECC , 2009. UK Climate Change Sustainable Development Indicator: 2008 Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Provisional Figures.
  • EIA, 2009. U.S. Carbon Dioxide Emissions from Energy Sources. 2008 Flash Estimate. Energy Information Administration, U.S. Department of Energy, May 2009.
  • GCP (Global Carbon Project), 2009.
  • Gregg, J.S., Andres, R.J. and G. Marland, 2008: China: Emissions pattern of the world leader in CO2 emissions from fossil fuel consumption and cement production. Geophys. Res. Lett., 35, L08806, doi:10.1029/2007GL032887.
  • Hooijer, A., Silvius, M., Wösten, H. en S. Page (2006). PEAT-CO2, Assessment of CO2 emissions from drained peatlands in SE Asia. Delft Hydraulics report Q3943.
  • IPCC (2006) 2006 IPCC Guidelines for National Greenhouse Gas Inventories. Prepared by the National Greenhouse Gas Inventories Programme (NGGIP), Eggleston H.S., Buendia L., Miwa K., Ngara T. and Tanabe K. (eds), IGES, Japan.
  • JRC/PBL (European Commission, Joint Research Centre (JRC)/Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL), 2009. Emission Database for Global Atmospheric Research (EDGAR), release version 4.0.
  • Olivier, J.G.J. and J.A.H.W. Peters, 2009. Trends in global CO2 emissions through 2008. PBL, Bilthoven, in prep.
  • REN21, 2009. Renewables Global Status Report. 2009 update. REN21 Secretariat, Paris.
  • UBA, 2009. Climate protection: Greenhouse gas emissions in 2008 at their lowest since 1990 Germany reaches its Kyoto target. Press release 016/2009.
  • UNEP/NFI, 2009. Global Trends in Sustainable Energy Investment 2009. Analysis of Trends and Issues in the Financing of Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency. ISBN: 978 92 807 3038 1. UNEP DTIE, Energy Branch, Energy Finance Unit, Paris.
  • USGS (U.S. Geological Survey), 2009. Cement Statistics and Information
  • Van Dijk, P.M., Kuenzer, C., Zhang, J., Wolf, K.H.A.A. and J. Wang, 2009. Fossil Fuel Deposit Fires. Occurrence Inventory, design and assessment of Instrumental Options. WAB report 500102021. PBL, Bilthoven. In press
  • Van der Werf, G.R., J. Dempewolf, S. N. Trigg, J. T. Randerson, P. S. Kasibhatla, L. Giglio, D. Murdiyarso, W. Peters, D. C. Morton, G. J. Collatz, A. J. Dolman and R. S. DeFries, 2008. Climate regulation of fire emissions and deforestation in equatorial Asia. PNAS, 105, 20350–20355.
  • WSA (World Steel Association), 2009. Crude steel production statistics.


Publication title
Global CO2 emissions: annual increase halves in 2008
Publication date
25 June 2009
Publication type
Product number