December 05, 2011
Global Emissions Break Records in 2010
by Robert Kropp
Scientists at the Global Carbon Project find that despite a persistent economic downturn, emissions
from burning fossil fuels increased 5.9% in 2010 and reached highest level recorded in at least the
last 800,000 years
The financial crisis and the global recession that followed have had little to commend. Widespread
joblessness due to reduced economic activity, homelessness as unsophisticated homeowners found
themselves saddled with impossible mortgages; and millions more people plunged into poverty, here
in the US and throughout the world.
As an executive with the International Monetary Fund
(IMF) stated in the documentary Inside Job, "At the end of the day, the poorest, as always, pay the
But one positive outcome that could be pointed to is that reduced economic
activity led to a decrease in global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In 2009, fossil fuel emissions
underwent an "abrupt decline" of 1.3%, according to the Global Carbon Project (GCP), a partnership of
climate change programs. The decline, GCP continued, "was indisputably the result of the global
"Many saw the global financial crisis as an opportunity to move the
global economy away from persistent and high emissions growth," stated Dr. Glen Peters of the
Center for International Climate and Environmental Research in Norway, the lead author of a new report
GCP's new report documents global emissions during 2010; the results are
sobering to say the least, and in fact lend credence to the growing belief that policymakers will
not takes the steps necessary to reverse, or even mitigate, climate change and its effects. During
2010, the report found, global emissions increased 5.9%, one of the largest growth rates in the
past decade. Atmospheric concentration of CO2 is now 39% higher than it was at the start of the
Industrial Revolution, and is the highest during at least the last 800,000 years.
return to emissions growth in 2010 suggests the opportunity was not exploited," Peters said.
The absolute emissions from the burning of fossil fuels in 2010 were the highest in human
history, the report states. The burning of coal was responsible for more than half of those
The contribution of coal burning to accelerating climate change is especially
worrisome when taken in the context of a recent report from BankTrack focusing on the financing by banks of
new coal-fired power plant construction. If all new coal-fired power plants now scheduled for
construction come on line, BankTrack warned, their lifetime emissions will equal those of all
coal-burning activities since the beginning of industrialization.
"The impact of the
global financial crisis has been short-lived due to strong emissions growth in emerging economies,
a return to emissions growth in developed economies, and an increase in the fossil-fuel intensity
of the world economy," said Dr. Pep Canadell of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research
Organization in Australia (CSIRO), a co-author of the report and executive director of GCP.
China, India, and the US are the nations whose emissions increased the most in 2010. China,
whose emissions increased by 10.4%, is now responsible for 24.6% of the world's emissions. India's
emissions increased by 9.4%. In the US, where emissions decreased by seven percent in 2009, an
increase of 4.1% occurred. The US remains second to China in global emissions, responsible for
16.4% of them.
Meanwhile, 20 years after most nations (the US being the most noteworthy
exception) signed the Kyoto Protocol—a period of time during which global emissions have increased
by 49%—world leaders are meeting in Durban, South Africa, in yet another effort to come to
agreement on action addressing climate change.
"Governments have pledged to keep warming
below two degrees, a level which would avoid the most dangerous aspects of climate change," said
report co-author Dr. Corinne Le Quéré, director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research
at the University of East Anglia. However, "Global CO2 emissions since 2000 are tracking the high
end of the projections used by the Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which far exceed two degrees warming by 2100," she added.
Global emissions have risen an average of 3.1% a year from 2000 to 2010.
recent word from Durban is that China has agreed to binding emissions reduction cuts, so long as
developed nations do the same. However, the response from the US has been cautious; apparently
rejecting suggestions for financing the Green Climate Fund, US Deputy Special Envoy for Climate
Change Jonathan Pershing spoke of "inconsistencies" that would have to be resolved before the US
became a party to the Fund.
The Green Climate Fund recognizes that climate change has
been, until recently at least, the responsibility of developed nations, and proposed that those
nations pay into a fund providing development aid to developing nations for mitigation of and
adaptation to climate change.
Pershing, however, stated, "I actually quite strongly reject
the notion that action is conditioned on a legal form for a particular document from this process,"
and suggested that "a change in the trajectory of emissions" could occur without an international
"2009 marked the first time that developing countries had higher
consumption-based emissions than developed countries," GCP found. However, emissions from
production of goods produced in developing nations but consumed in developed nations increased from
2.5% of the share of developed countries in 1990 to 16% in 2010.
"All that has changed is
the location in which the emissions are being produced," Peters said.
GCP's report also
documents increases in emissions from deforestation. "The implementation of new land policies,
higher law enforcement to stop illegal deforestation, and new afforestation and regrowth of
previously deforested areas could all have contributed" to an estimated 25% decline in emissions
from deforestation since the 1990s, the report stated.