- Mark McDowell
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Great Recession Had Little Impact on CO2 Emissions
Worldwide CO2, emissions have risen by nearly 50 percent in the past several decades, with 2010 now holding the record as the year with the most greenhouse gas emissions on record. Burning fossil fuels released more than 36 billion metric tons of CO2 in 2010, due primarily to growth in China, India, and the United States. Deforestation is another core cause.
Going back half a century, nothing seems to have set back emissions for many years and that includes the Great Recession that started in late 2008, according to a new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change. Other studies indicate that mankind has burned approximately 50 percent of available fossil fuels if we don’t want the climate to warm by more than two degrees Celsius. More to the point, we’ll need zero or negative emissions and emissions to peak sometime this decade to avoid any further warming.
Emissions rose approximately 510 million metric tons of carbon to reach 9.14 billion tons in 2010, the most in records dating to 1959, according to the Global Carbon Project. That represents a 5.9 percent increase, the largest since 2003, when they jumped six percent. The 2010 global emissions were 33.5 billion tons when converted to carbon dioxide.
“We’re going exactly in the wrong direction for limiting global warming,” said Corinne Le Quere, co-author of the Global Carbon Project’s report and a director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia, England. “Governments need to develop ways to boost the economy using renewable energy,” she said.
“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,” Le Quere said. “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.”
There’s growing evidence that 2011 will almost certainly be the 10th warmest on record, and the hottest featuring the La Nina phenomenon that brings cooler waters to the surface of the Pacific Ocean, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). “There’s clearly a warming trend. That’s supported by other indicators such as disappearing Arctic sea ice, melting glaciers and rising sea levels,” Peter Stott, head of climate monitoring at the U.K. Met Office, whose own temperature estimates feed into the WMO data, said.
“The global financial crisis was an opportunity to move the global economy away from a high-emissions trajectory. Our results provide no indication of this happening,” according to the study’s authors. The study was issued at a planet-warming gases panelat U.N. climate talks in Durban, South Africa.
Writing on Times’ Ecocentric blog, Bryan Walsh notes that “The study underscores just how little we’ve done to slow the increase in carbon emissions. Since 1990 –the base year for the Kyoto Protocol –carbon emissions from fossil fuels have increased by 49 percent, making a mockery of that global treaty’s ambition to cut emissions by at least five percent. And it’s getting worse –on average, fossil fuel emissions have risen by 3.1 percent a year between 2000 and 2010, three times the rate of increase seen during the 1990s, even as global warming has become a global concern.
According to a Nature blog, “What’s new in this analysis is that it puts the recovery in context with previous global crises. It also updates a novel type of carbon dioxide accounting pioneered by lead author Glen Peters, who is at the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research in Oslo. Usually, and under the Kyoto Protocol, carbon dioxide emissions are identified with the nation that produces them. Yet rich countries have largely achieved cuts in CO2 emissions since 1990 by importing goods made elsewhere. Around one-fifth of China’s emissions, for example, come from making goods demanded by consumers in other nations. If you count the CO2 emissions embodied in final consumer demand, the study shows, Kyoto’s ‘developed’ countries are consuming more carbon dioxide now than they did in 1990 — although they report cuts in domestic production. Even so, 2009 marked the first time that developing countries consumed more carbon dioxide than developed countries. The crisis may not have fully passed, and it’s too early to tell whether the green stimulus packages introduced in recent years will have a positive impact, the study says. For the moment it’s sobering to think that the pain caused by the financial crisis made but a small dent in global CO2 emissions.”