In 2010, the latest year for which figures have been compiled, the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) said the world emitted 31.8bn tonnes of carbon from energy consumption. That represents a climb of 6.7% on the year before and is significantly higher than the previous best estimate, made by the International Energy Agency last year, that in 2010 a record 30.6 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide were released from burning fossil fuel.
Increases in fossil fuel use of this magnitude are likely to carry the world far beyond the temperature rise of 2C by 2050 that scientists have estimated is the limit of safety, beyond which climate change is likely to become catastrophic and irreversible.
According to the new EIA data, carbon dioxide emissions from the US have resumed their rise, after a brief blip caused by the financial crisis and recession in 2008. That increase came despite the much-vaunted switch from coal to shale gas – with its lower emissions than coal when burned for energy – that has dominated the US's energy economy in recent years.
China, which in 2006 took over the US's historical position as the world's biggest emitter, raced ahead in 2010, emitting 8.3bn tonnes – up 15.5% on the previous year, and a 240% increase since 1992. That makes China alone responsible for about one-quarter of global carbon emissions from energy, emitting about 48% more than the US.
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