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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 most."

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 financial crisis."

"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 from GCP.

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.

"The 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 emissions.

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.

The most 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 agreement.

"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.

 

 
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