'No-one is listening to the entire scientific community': global carbon emissions set to hit new high

Jeremy Hance
December 03, 2012

Coal truck in western China. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
Coal truck in western China. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

Global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from industrial sources are set to hit a new record high this year according to a new analysis by Global Carbon Project. The analysis in Nature Climate Changes predicts that CO2 emissions will rise another 2.6 percent, hitting 35.6 billion tonnes. The scientists warn that such steep climbs in global emissions year-after-year means that the door is rapidly closing on a global agreement to keep temperatures from rising 2 degree Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.

"With emissions continuing to grow, it's as if no-one is listening to the entire scientific community," co-author Corinne Le Quéré, director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, said in a statement. "I am worried that the risks of dangerous climate change are too high on our current emissions trajectory."

The analysis found that CO2 emissions jumped 3 percent in 2011, largely due to ongoing emissions growth in China. China's emissions, which are now the largest in the world, grew an astounding 9.9 percent in 2011. India, another rising emitter, grew 7.5 percent. A recent study found that between both countries, India and China have proposed 818 new coal-fired plants. However, per capita both country's emissions remain below those in the EU and the U.S.

the Muenster yellow-toothed cavy
Castle Gate coal-fired power plant in Utah. Nearly half of the US's electricity is from coal, the most carbon intensive energy. Photo by: David Jolley.
Unlike in China and India, emissions declined in the EU and the U.S. last year. Due in various parts to the economic recession, natural gas replacing coal, and continuing growth in renewables, U.S. emissions fell 1.8 percent in 2011. EU emissions fell 2.8 percent.

China surpassed the U.S. as the world's number one polluter in 2006. As of last year, the country accounted for 28 percent of the world's total CO2 emissions from industry, the U.S. for 16 percent, the EU for 11 percent, and India for 7 percent.

"Unless large and concerted global mitigation efforts are initiated soon, the goal of remaining below 2C will soon become unachievable," reads the paper.

The researchers argues that steep cuts in global greenhouse emissions are needed by 2020 if the world is to have any chance of averting dangerous global climate change. However, governments at the UN Climate Summit in Doha, Qatar this week are discussing a global climate agreement that would be forged in 2015 and not implemented until 2020—too late to have any real chance of keeping the 2 degree Celsius pledge, according to scientists.

"With the pathways we are on with intensive fossil fuels we are looking at 4, 5 or even 6 [degree Celsius warming]," Le Quéré added. "We need a radical plan."

A recent report by the World Bank painted an apocalyptic picture of a world that has warmed by 4 degree Celsius, including rising sea levels, coral reefs dissolving due to ocean acidification, worsening extreme weather across the world with today's heatwaves becoming the norm, high risk to agriculture, and a massive decline in the world's species along with other impacts.

On the plus side the Nature Climate Changes paper argues that some European countries (namely Belgium, Denmark, France, Sweden, and the UK) have seen emissions fall by as much as 5 percent annually over decades due to "energy transitions" to nuclear and renewable energy.

"Scaling up similar energy transitions across more countries can kick-start global mitigation with low costs," says lead author Glen Peters with the Centre for International Climate and Environmental Research in Norway. "To deepen and sustain these energy transitions in a broad range of countries requires aggressive policy drivers."

However, calls for a more aggressive response at the UN Climate Summit have so far fallen on deaf ears.

CITATION: G.P. Peters, R.M. Andrew, T. Boden, J.G. Canadell, P. Ciais, C. Le Quéré, G. Marland, M.R. Raupach, C. Wilson. The mitigation challenge to stay below two degrees. Nature Climate Change. 2012.

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Jeremy Hance
mongabay.com (December 03, 2012).

'No-one is listening to the entire scientific community': global carbon emissions set to hit new high.