Carbon emissions reach record high

Global carbon emissions have hit a record 10 billion tons, rising by 49 per cent in the last two decades.

A new analysis from the Global Carbon Project shows fossil fuel emissions increased by 5.9 per cent in 2010, potentially threatening the global target of keeping the world temperature rise below two degrees.

The findings echo those of an EU report which concluded in September that global emissions of CO2 – rather than carbon – reached 33 billion tonnes in 2010.

On average, says the team, fossil fuel emissions have risen by 3.1 per cent each year between 2000 and 2010 – three times the rate of increase during the 1990s – and are projected to continue to increase by 3.1 per cent in 2011.

“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,” says Corinne Le Quéré, director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research and professor at the University of East Anglia.

“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.”

Half of the 10 billion tonnes of carbon emitted last year remained in the atmosphere, where CO2 concentration reached 389.6 parts per million. The remaining emissions were taken up by the ocean and land reservoirs, in approximately equal proportions.

The figures are a disappointment, especially given that emissions dipped slightly as a result of the global financial crisis of 2008-09. Last year’s high growth was caused by both emerging and developed economies, says the team, with rich countries continuing to outsource part of their emissions to emerging economies through international trade.

Most of the growth in emissions came from China, the US, India, the Russian Federation and the European Union. Emissions from the trade of goods and services produced in emerging economies but consumed in the West increased from 2.5 per cent of the share of rich countries in 1990 to 16 per cent in 2010.

“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,” says lead author Dr Glen Peters of the Centre for International Climate and Environmental Research in Norway.