Read as much as you want on BostonGlobe.com, anywhere and anytime, for just 99¢.

Pollutants rising too fast, report warns

Agency says rate of carbon release threatens Earth

WASHINGTON — Emissions of carbon dioxide from energy use rose 1.4 percent to 31.6 billion tons in 2012, setting a record and putting the planet on course for temperature increases well above international climate goals, the International Energy Agency said Monday.

Its report said continuing that pace could mean a temperature increase over pre-industrial times of as much as 9 degrees Fahrenheit, which its chief economist, Fatih Birol, warned ‘‘would be a disaster for all countries.’’

Continue reading below

‘‘If we don’t do anything between now and 2020,” Birol said, “it will be very difficult because there will be a lot of carbon already in the atmosphere and the energy infrastructure will be locked in.’’

The energy sector accounts for more than two-thirds of greenhouse gas emissions, so ‘‘energy has a crucial role to play in tackling climate change,’’ the organization said. Its report urged nations to take four steps, including aggressive energy-efficiency measures, by 2015 to keep alive any hope of limiting climate change to 3.6 degrees.

The United States was one of the few relatively bright spots in the report. US emissions dropped 200 million tons, or 3.8 percent, in part due to a switch in power generation from coal to shale gas. US emissions fell for the fourth time in the past five years, to a level last seen in the 1990s.

The other factors in the US decline were a mild winter, declining demand for gasoline and diesel, and the increasing use of renewable energy.

Europe’s emissions declined by 50 million tons, or 1.4 percent. But emissions rose 3.8 percent in China, the top carbon polluter. Yet that was one of the slowest increases in the past decade, and half of 2011’s rate of increase.

The level of carbon dioxide emissions per unit of electricity generation has fallen about 17 percent in China. But China remains the largest contributor of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, with about a quarter of global emissions.

Japan’s emissions jumped 5.8 percent as it imported and burned large amounts of liquefied natural gas and coal to compensate for the loss of nuclear plants idle since a tsunami damaged them and turned the population against that energy source.

Emissions also climbed in developing countries outside the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, especially in the oil-rich Middle East, where fuel prices are heavily subsidized.

‘‘What I believe is that climate change is slipping down in the political agenda in many countries even though the scientific evidence about climate change continues to mount,’’ Birol said.

The report mapped a way for countries and companies to contain increases in global temperatures. It urged them to implement energy-efficiency measures; limit the output of inefficient coal plants and mandate that all future coal plants be highly efficient; reduce the release of methane in oil and gas operations; and phase out fossil-fuel subsidies.

Birol said nuclear energy remains ‘‘a very important option to fight against climate change.’’

Global climate talks are aimed at keeping the temperature rise below 3.6 degrees, compared with pre-industrial levels. The agency found that the world is on track for an increase of 6.5 to 9.5 degrees.

Climate negotiators meeting this week in Germany are haggling over a pact that is supposed to be adopted by 2015. The main sticking point is how to divide the burden between developed and developing countries. Industrialized countries want emerging economies such as China, India, and Brazil to take on bigger responsibilities, while the developing countries stress the responsibilities of longtime carbon polluters including Europe and the United States.

The report said developing countries account for 60 percent of emissions from energy, up from 45 percent in 2000.

Loading comments...

You have reached the limit of 5 free articles in a month

Stay informed with unlimited access to Boston’s trusted news source.

  • High-quality journalism from the region’s largest newsroom
  • Convenient access across all of your devices
  • Today’s Headlines daily newsletter
  • Subscriber-only access to exclusive offers, events, contests, eBooks, and more
  • Less than 25¢ a week