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Last year’s greenhouse gas emissions topple worst-case scenario

Global carbon emissions last year exceeded worst-case scenario predictions from just four years before, according to the US Department of Energy (DOE). A rise of 6 percent (564 million additional tons) over 2009 levels was largely driven by three nations: the US, India, and China. Emissions from burning coal jumped 8 percent overall. The new data, supported by a similar report from International Energy Agency (IEA), makes it even more difficult for nations to make good on a previous pledge to hold back the world from warming over 2 degrees Celsius.

“We are building up a horrible legacy for our children and grandchildren,” Granger Morgan, head of the engineering and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University, told the Associated Press.

According to the DOE’s data, China made up nearly a quarter (24.6 percent) of global emissions, while the US comprised 16.4 percent and India 6.2 percent. However, the data only includes carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels and cement, and does not include other major sources of greenhouse gases such as deforestation and land-use changes. If these were included Indonesia would rise from its current position of 15th in global carbon emssions.

By themselves, China and the US accounted for half of the global rise in carbon emissions. Other nations that saw emission rises included Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Russia, Poland and Kazakhstan. Overall Europe saw moderate growth in emissions.

Some countries, however, lowered their emissions from 2009 to 2010, including Switzerland, Azerbaijan, Slovakia, Spain, New Zealand and Pakistan.

Still, the new figures show that the 1997 Kyoto Protocol continues to have a positive impact, if not enough to lower global emissions yet. Developed countries that signed on to Kyoto have largely kept their goals to date, reducing overall emissions by around 8 percent from 1990 levels.

The US, the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter historically, never signed onto the Kyoto Protocol. While China, today’s largest emitter, relies for much of its energy production on coal.

Climate legislation failed in the US in 2010 and has not been resurrected by the Obama Administration, which has frustrated environmentalists with its sluggishness in addressing climate change. Currently, only one of the major Republican candidates for the 2012 primary views climate change as a major concern: Jon Huntsman. The rest view it, at best, as unsettled science, and, at worst, a global hoax.

For decades experts have warned that rising greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels, along with deforestation and land-use change, is heating up the Earth. Global climate change has been linked to melting of the Arctic, global sea level rise, increased droughts and floods, worsening extreme weather, desertification, along with other changes. Predicted impacts include increased global conflict, famine, disease expansion, and mass extinction. Still, nations have been slow to combat ever-rising global emissions.

The next chance for the international community to come together to address climate arrives in little more than a month at the UN climate talks in Durban, South Africa.

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