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Global carbon emissions reach record 10 billion tonnes - threatening two degree target

Posted on 12 December 2011 by John Hartz

This article is a reprint of a news release posted by the University of East Anglia on Dec 4, 2011.

Global carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels have increased by 49 per cent in the last two decades, according to the latest figures by an international team, including researchers at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, University of East Anglia.

Published today in the journal Nature Climate Change, the new analysis by the Global Carbon Project shows fossil fuel emissions increased by 5.9 per cent in 2010 and by 49 per cent since 1990 – the reference year for the Kyoto protocol.

On average, 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. They are projected to continue to increase by 3.1 per cent in 2011.

Total emissions - which combine fossil fuel combustion, cement production, deforestation and other land use emissions - reached 10 billion tonnes of carbon1 in 2010 for the first time. Half of the emissions 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.

Rebounding from the global financial crisis of 2008-09 when emissions temporarily decreased, last year’s high growth was caused by both emerging and developed economies. Rich countries continued to outsource part of their emissions to emerging economies through international trade.

Contributions to global emissions growth in 2010 were largest from China, the United States, 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.

In the UK, fossil fuel CO2 emissions grew 3.8 per cent in 2010 but were 14 per cent below their 1990 levels. However, emissions from the trade of goods and services grew from 5 per cent of the emissions produced locally in 1990 to 46 per cent in 2010 - overcompensating the reductions in local emissions. Emissions in the UK were 20 per cent above their 1990 levels when emissions from trade are taken into account.

“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,” said co-author Prof 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.

“Taking action to reverse current trends is urgent.”

Lead author Dr Glen Peters, of the Centre for International Climate and Environmental Research in Norway, said: “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.”

Co-author Dr Pep Canadell, executive director of the Global Carbon Project, added: “The global financial crisis has helped developed countries meet their production emission commitments as promised in the Kyoto Protocol and Copenhagen Accord, but its impact has been short-lived and pre-existing challenges remain.”

‘Rapid growth in CO2 emissions after the 2008-2009 global financial crisis’ by GP Peters, G Marland, C Le Quéré, T Boden, JG Canadell and MR Raupach is published online by Nature Climate Change on December 4 2011.

The Global Carbon Project is opening an office at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at UEA in 2012, funded by the Natural Environment Research Council. The office will support the annual publication of emissions statistics for the atmosphere, ocean and land reservoirs.

For more information, visit

1Values reported here are in billion tonnes of carbon. To convert emissions to billion tonnes of CO2, multiply the value by 3.67.

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Comments 1 to 6:

  1. Solutions interalia: - 16% contributable to products used in the rich countries --> provide renewable energy technology at a price level of base-load power and add the difference in the price of the products. Consumer wise: if I have to pay for some carbon tax which goes I do not know or pay that same amount into a product where I do know. - China, India etc. can demand from any foreign operator that it has to supply xx% of its energy from a renewable source. So it can demand at least 16%. - Most developing countries are not stuck into some 150 year old distribution system loaded with stranded costs. Please do not load those countries with that ill-fated type of systems. - Forget about CAPEX and view OPEX. With the rapid changing technology of today your capital is out date within 7 years. Implement modular sizeable and many more actions...
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  2. One of the worst companies in the mining sector is Coal India. It is the largest coal mining company in the world in terms of production, and almost every problem connected with the industry you find in this company. That includes use of child laborers (which is against the law in India) and huge environmental problems, including underground coal fires in a heavily populated area. People are constantly confronted with carbon monoxide and huge volumes of toxic fumes. At the same time, you have Bank of America, Citi, Morgan Stanley and Deutsche Bank who organized an IPO for Coal India. They helped craft the prospectus for the IPO, which in 500 pages doesn’t mention the word “environment” or “climate change.” Source: “The Wall Street-climate change connection” Salon, Dec 10, 2011 To access this informative article, click here.
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  3. The Salon article referenced in my prior post is based on a new study, “Bankrolling Climate Change,“ produced by the environment organization urgewald from Germany, the social and environmental justice organizations groundwork and Earthlife Africa from South Africa, and the international NGO network BankTracka. “Bankrolling Climate Change” presents new research on the portfolios of 93 of the world’s leading banks. It examines their lending for the coal industry, the prime source of global CO2 emissions. It provides the first comprehensive climate ranking for financial institutions and identifies the top “climate killers” in the banking world. By naming and shaming these banks, the study sponsors hope to set the stage for a race to the top, where banks compete with each other to clean up their portfolios and stop financing investments which are pushing our climate over the brink.
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  4. Hasn't the Durban agreement at COP 17 not only gone past the 2 degree target but at best will mean 3 degrees or above?
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  5. #2, 3 John : about Indian policy, this comment on Durban , from NR Krishnan (former ministry of environment) : India, now, has the unenviable task of reworking its entire energy strategy. In December 2005, the Planning Commission had released an expert committee report on India's Integrated Energy Policy (the finalised report was released in 2006). The report came out with projections of the country's energy requirements up to the year 2031-32 along with likely scenarios of energy generation from various fossil fuels, nuclear power stations (present and future ones) and renewable sources with GDP growth pegged at 8 per cent annually. It came out that by 2031-32, primary energy supply would need to grow by “3 to 4 times and electricity supply by 5 to 7 times of today's consumption.” In all the scenarios of possible sources and their contributions towards satisfying this energy demand, coal predominates to the extent of over 40 per cent with oil hovering at 28-30 per cent. Gas, as fuel, would remain with a contribution of 7-12 per cent. Clean energy sources would account for about 16 per cent only. All these projections would now need to be revisited and that won't be an easy exercise. According to studies commissioned by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, by 2031-32, India's annual emissions of GHGs are expected to go up from an estimated 1.5 to 2 billion tonnes in 2010 to 4-7 billion tonnes in 2031. The economic and social readjustments called for by any new agreement to limit emissions are difficult to imagine. It would certainly be a good thing to enforce social rules for Coal India workers. But climate rules for coal in India will have to deal with the basic needs of the most populous country of the world. When you have to feed, light, heat, educate, transport, treat 1,2 billion of persons, and expected 1,6 billion in 2050, you must produce by a way or another huge amounts of primary energy. As an order of magnitude, for a modest 70 GJ/c/y (twice to fourth less than European countries, and less than the optimal correlation with HDI at 110GJ/c/y), India would need to produce 84 EJ each year now, 112 EJ/y in 2050. The current value is approx 25 EJ/y. To forbid the use of coal (first energetic resource of the country) or to impose CCS will have an economic and social cost for Indian population. Adn that's true of course for all emerging countries which have fossil reserves in their ground. So one problem of COP negotiations is: what is exactly this cost and who must pay for that?
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  6. From the Peters et al 2011 paper in Nature Climate Change, here are the carbon emissions from production and consumption for developing / non developing countries, 1990-2010: The interpretation is quite clear: developing countries more than doubled their carbon emissions in 20 years, while developed countries have known a stagnation, or a small increase when consumption is included. The 2008-2009 recession had no effect on the emerging economies, contrary to a slight fall for the OECD. So, the decoupling of economic growth and fossil energy use is still to be invented, and the very first concern in term of emission is for the non-OECD countries, because if we keep this slope, emissions for non-Annex B could be as high as 10 or 15 PgC in 2030, largely outweighing the accessible emission's cuts of 1 or 2 PgC in OECD in the same period.
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