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Greenhouse gases near record 39.6 billion tons in 2013

By Ben Brumfield, CNN
updated 12:34 PM EST, Wed November 20, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Greenhouse gas emissions are 61% higher than they were in 1990
  • In the West, they have fallen; the U.S. produced 3.7% less in 2012
  • China is the biggest polluter with 27% of the world's emissions
  • But pollution per person is highest in the United States

(CNN) -- Smoke stacks and exhaust pipes around the world are blasting greenhouse gas emissions to a new record annual high. They should break 39 billion tons this year.

But there's also some good news, a new study published Tuesday said. The rate at which people are polluting the air may be leveling off.

In the West, emissions contributing to global warming even dropped last year.

The United States pumped 3.7% less carbon dioxide into the air in 2012 than in the previous year; Europe 1.8% less.

CORRECTION
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the amount of global greenhouse gas emissions expected to be released in 2013. The correct figure is 39.6 billion tons.

Globally, greenhouse gases are being emitted at a slower rate this year than they were last year, and in both years the climb in emissions was less intense than in the past decade taken as a whole, said researchers at Britain's East Anglia University.

Justices to review greenhouse gas regulation

Drop in the bucket

It's an improvement -- but a drop in the bucket by global emission standards.

Greenhouse gases are blowing into the atmosphere at rates 61% higher than they were in 1990, the baseline year for the Kyoto Protocol.

The international agreement is designed to decrease emissions contributing to global warming by holding its signees to reduction goals. The vast majority of the world's nations have signed on to it.

The United States is not one of them.

China is.

But the world's largest carbon emitter, which wrested the dubious title from the United States in recent years, pumped 5.9% more into the atmosphere in 2012 than in the previous year.

India contributed 7.7% more emissions in 2012.

Path to catastrophe

Not only must the increase stop, the researchers said, but industrialized nations must achieve a global reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

Time is running out to stop the world from reaching a dreading global warming threshold.

The world is on a course with current emission levels to reach a rise in global temperatures of 2 degrees Celsius or more and end up in the worst climate change scenario issued by the U.N. panel on climate change.

The study includes a carbon atlas, which shows levels of pollution emitted by each nation and their development over the last 50 years.

In 2012, the largest contributors of greenhouse gases were China with 27%, the United States with 14% and the European Union with 10%.

On an individual basis, China and the EU were at the same level, with 7.7 tons of carbon gas emitted per person and year.

Americans still polluted the most by far, with more than 17 tons of carbon gas emitted per person in 2012.

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