Total carbon emissions for the first time hit 10 billion metric tons (36.7 billion tons of CO2) in 2010, according to new analysis published by the Global Carbon Project (GCP) in Nature Climate Change. In the past two decades (since the reference year for the Kyoto Protocol: 1990), emissions have risen an astounding 49 percent. Released as officials from 190 countries meet in Durban, South Africa for the 17th UN Summit on Climate Change to discuss the future of international efforts on climate change, the study is just the latest to argue a growing urgency for slashing emissions in the face of rising extreme weather incidents and vanishing polar sea ice, among other impacts.
“Global CO2 emissions since 2000 are tracking the high end of the projections used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which far exceed two degrees warming by 2100,” explained co-author Corinne Le Quéré, the director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research and professor at the University of East Anglia, in a press release. “Yet governments have pledged to keep warming below two degrees to avoid the most dangerous aspects of climate change such as widespread water stress and sea level rise, and increases in extreme climatic events. Taking action to reverse current trends is urgent.”
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 a recent report form the U.S. Department of Energy, which just looked at fossil fuels, the new analysis includes carbon emitted from burning fossil fuels as well as cement production, deforestation, and other land use.
Following a temporary dip in global carbon emissions due to the financial crisis, emissions last year rose 5.9 percent from 2009 levels. From 2000 to 2010, emissions rose on average 3.1 percent annually, tripling the average rate of emissions growth in the 1990s.
“Many saw the global financial crisis as an opportunity to move the global economy away from persistent and high emissions growth, but the return to emissions growth in 2010 suggests the opportunity was not exploited,” said lead author Glen Peters with the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research in Norway.
Not surprisingly, the five largest emitters were China, the U.S., India, Russia, and the EU. While many industrialized nations are meeting their Kyoto Treaty commitments (in part due to the financial crisis), the new analysis finds that overall emissions are not being cut, but outsourced through trade.
While 2010 emissions in the UK were 14 percent below 1990 levels, this would not be the case if outsourced emissions were taken into account. Outsourced emissions are those produced in one nation, but consumed in another; for example, emissions for a furniture set manufactured in China, but traded and sold in the UK would be outsourced emissions.
According to the study, if one factors in outsourced emissions, the UK’s emissions have risen 20 percent from 1990 levels (instead of declining 14 percent).
Despite the ongoing rise of global emissions, most experts don’t expect a breakthrough on climate negotiations this year at Durban, South Africa.
Fingers are already pointing to Canada and the U.S. as obstructionists in the ongoing negotiating process. Canada has hinted it will likely withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol after the meeting, drawing ire from many. The U.S. wants to wait until 2020 to implement a new climate treaty, a year that many experts say would make it to late for the world to keep its pledge to keep temperatures from rising above 2 degrees Celsius from historical levels.
Meanwhile, a coalition the world’s poorest nations (called the Least Developed countries) and island nations (the Alliance of Small Island States or Aoisis) have proposed starting negotiations for a new binding treaty immedaiately with implementation at the end of 2012. They propose that the treaty should include actions from everyone, rich and poor alike, with the goal to keep temperatures from rising above 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Global climate change has been linked to melting of the Arctic sea ice, global sea level rise, increased droughts and floods, worsening extreme weather, desertification, melting glaciers, along with other changes. Predicted impacts have included increased global conflict, famine, disease expansion, economic collapse, and mass extinction.
CITATION: GP Peters, G Marland, C Le Quéré, T Boden, JG Canadell and MR Raupach. Rapid growth in CO2 emissions after the 2008-2009 global financial crisis. Nature Climate Change. December 4 2011.
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