Coal-fired plants like this one in China are blamed in part of the rapid rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide that the International Energy Agency warns could lead to catastrophic temperature increases.


WASHINGTON - Emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases are growing at such a rate that the world will likely exceed a safe limit in average global temperatures by the end of the century, a new report by the International Energy Agency says.

The world could veer into a higher temperature zone that would profoundly damage economic growth and most other aspects of life, the report warned.

Emissions of greenhouse gases, mostly carbon dioxide, need to stay below certain levels so that they do not push average global temperatures up by more than than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, scientists and policymakers have warned. Average temperatures have risen by about 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit over the last 150 years or so, as mass industrialization spurred the increased combustion of fossil fuels.

The IEA's Redrawing the Energy-Climate Map reported that carbon dioxide emissions grew at a rate of 1.4 percent in 2012, reaching a record high of 31.6 gigatons released into the atmosphere. On this current path, the world's average temperatures are on track to increase 6.5 degrees to 9.5 degrees by the end of the century, said the IEA, an independent research group established by the world's most industrialized nations.

"Climate change has quite frankly slipped to the back burner of policy priorities," said IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven. "But the problem is not going away - quite the opposite."

Soaring temperatures would have profound implications for water supplies, electricity production, agriculture and public health. At the 2009 global climate talks in Copenhagen, dozens of participating countries, including the United States, agreed to take steps to prevent average global temperature rise from exceeding 3.6 degrees. But the agreement was not legally binding, and worldwide emissions have increased.

Emissions of greenhouse gases have fallen in the United States recently to levels not seen since the mid-1990s, largely due to a natural-gas boom that has prompted a shift in power generation away from coal. The IEA report noted that "China experienced the largest growth in CO2 emissions (300 megatons), but the increase was one of the lowest it has seen in a decade," driven in part by the greater use of renewable energy.